October 9, 2019
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. How are you today, sir?
Ralph Krueger: I’m very good, thank you. Good morning to you Howard and Jeremy and to all your listeners.
HS: I wanted to start off our conversation with something you talked about yesterday. The process that you’re in, this deep process of, you know, the players learning your principles and all the teaching you guys are doing. I don’t mean for you to tell me, “Yeah Howard, by game 16 it’ll be in place.” But what is that process like? How involved in that and how are they coming along as you observe it as the head coach of this team?
RK: Well we really went through training camp in a heavy teaching process where we were splitting sessions in half so we could teach between, after 30 minutes, go back on the ice, and now we’re just deep in the core principles and the concepts. Every game is an opportunity for us to learn from, and we’ll be doing that right through the season. As a coach, you don’t really know exactly which direction the group’s going to need direction in or where we can improve on. It’s just been so much fun working with the guys because of their involvement and their interest to actually learn and grow. Yesterday we did some very good sessions where we could take things out of the Columbus game that should make us a better team tonight. That process, to tell you the truth, will probably never end because we’re always going to be looking for improvement. That’s our motto right now, ‘keep the picture small.’ Get ready for Montreal today and think of nothing else but trying to be better tonight than we were last game.
HS: How does the process work when you’re in a pretty hectic part of the schedule – I think it’s 13 games in the first 26 days. With that much activity in terms of games, maybe is it tougher to work on all these things in practice when you’re playing basically every other day?
RK: We’re doing most of the learning off of the ice. It’s video sessions that are quick and short and to the point. We have footage now that we can use and discuss, and we’re making sure the players have a voice in the process so we can understand what they’re thinking and how they’re processing everything. They’re used to the way we’re doing it. The practices are short and sweet. Yesterday we had 30 minutes, and we will be leaving out the pregame skate today to gather energy because of the three in six we have at home now. We want to keep our energy high for what the games will demand. It’s more off the ice really, Howard, that we are doing our work right now.
HS: In terms of teaching this team and all the things you’re going through, one of the things I was curious about you said ‘dialogue,’ ‘an open dialogue.’ The players can certainly ask you a question about a principle you’re teaching, but do they come up with suggestions? And if they do, do you listen to them as a coaching staff? Like, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s try this.’
RK: Well more than anything, they’ve really bought into what we are, as coaches, working on and the way we want to go. The players are all in on that. And that hasn’t really been negotiable. It’s been something, through all the conversations in the summer with the players, I was able to feel what the good things were in the past to take with and where the opportunity was. So we had those conversations and that dialogue in the summer before we set the direction. All I can say is the players have been all in. Where you’re going to end up with more individual skills and conversations would be in conversations, especially around the power play. We have so much skill there and we’re working together. It’s a little more strategic as far as tactically you can make adjustments game to game and within the five-man unit what you can do. In the five-on-five game it’s really only about getting it right and trying to be consistent, which we lost a little bit of that in the first period against Columbus. We found our way again through the game and were able to dig a point out, which I was happy to see that. We’re still far from the finished product which is also exciting from a coaching viewpoint.
HS: A year ago this time, of course you weren’t here, we were going through the excitement of getting to watch Rasmus Dahlin in year one as a Buffalo Sabre. Again, since you just got here this season, in a limited amount of time going back to the preseason, through the practices, through the games, through the first three games, what are some of the things you’ve learned about Dahlin and his skill set now that you’ve been around him on a regular basis?
RK: Well first of all, like so many of the players, it’s been exciting to get to know them as people and as Buffalo Sabres. We have done an excellent job in recruiting good people, so that’s number one. He’s very coachable and the skills that lie within him and the potential of him is exciting for all of us. We see the offensive ability that’s there. He will be, with his deception, somebody who will continually excite. It’s also what he’s working on away from the puck and how he wants to participate in our team concept on the defense and how we need to keep the chances to a minimum to have a chance to win every night. We’re excited about how hard he’s working there. For the fans, they love to see the puck time on a Rasmus, that’s why we’re here as coaches to work on that time when we don’t have the puck and how can get it back. On both sides he’s been just a pleasure to work with. What an exciting future he has.
Jeremy White: [Dahlin’s] also got pretty big games coming up. The return to Sweden, I would imagine, he would be really excited for that, for the Global Series coming up.
RK: Yeah, we have five Swedes in our lineup and they’re all really excited about our two games against Tamp Bay at the beginning of November. We haven’t spoken about it that much because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t want to repeat it too often, but we’re trying to keep everything really really tight and small and just take care of today, whatever it’s asking. Sweden is hanging in the air. We had organizational and management meetings about that for a few hours yesterday. Jason Botterill called us all together. That’s going to be a wonderful trip, and any Sabres fans that can participate in that or experience Stockholm that time of year against Tamp Bay. Our Swedes, especially, will certainly be flying. Lots of tickets needed there.
JW: Having spent a lot of time internationally, Ralph, with regard to American sports fans have watched the NFL go abroad for a little bit, Mexico City, London, the NBA embroiled in the China thing currently. We’ve seen American sports kind of go outside of the continental U.S. When it comes to the NHL and its reception over there, what have you seen or what do you know about it? How much it means to whether it’s Swedish fans or Germany, the Sabres played in Germany a couple years back. We’ve just seen on and on the leagues continue to seem to want to do this. How much does it mean to people of those countries when the NHL comes in?
RK: It’s like the World Cup of Hockey, World Cup of Football, if you look at how fans look up to that, or the European Championships. The NHL in Europe at any time is the maximum for a hockey fan. They all plan their trips over here to see teams play. The NHL’s followed on a daily basis by all hockey fans in Europe. During the international break, all the leagues break in that exact weekend when we’re there. We will be the spotlight of all of European hockey on the television over there, and/or the people that can come live. It’s a very big event. And again, it’s Super Bowl-like for the actual hockey fans that are able to be a part of it.
HS: I’m trying to help you out here Ralph, for the first game in Sweden, to start an all-Swedish unit, but that means one of your forwards has to be on defense, right?
RK: Yeah, we would need to do that. We will have some fun around that to try to get the Swedes into a good position. Once again, also let’s remember we’ve got Fins we’ve got a Latvian, we’ve got a Czech, and all of them will have followers coming. It’s only an hour flight for all those countries to come into Stockholm. For all of the Europeans, the 10 that we have in the lineup, they’re all quite excited to be going over for that trip.
HS: The other thing I wanted to ask you about before we let you go is Casey Mittelstadt. A young center, trying to find his way coming off of his first full season, which had its ups and downs. What was your message or is your message to a young guy like that? You’ve talked about how in your system, it puts a lot of pressure on the player at center, the man in the middle. So what have you told Casey to try and help his development this season?
RK: Well that’s where Don Granato and now Chris Taylor at the moment filling in are working hard with him on the individual tactics that we need and the technique. To be able to defend in your own end at the speed and the pace of the National Hockey League today is a lot of hard work for the centerman. It sounds like a broken record, but very coachable young man who wants to get better every day. We all know how exciting his offensive upside is. We’re going to continue to let that grow and we’re going to find spaces where he can use it. Without the puck is where you need to be able to play, if we go on the road and you’re up against the top line of the other team, how can you defend? He’s doing really well in his development there. It’s more about our defensive concept. If we want a chance to win every night here in the National Hockey League. As the top teams develop and get warmed up into the season, we’re going to have to be able to defend every night to give ourselves a real chance. we aren’t a team that wants to get into run-and-gun shootouts. We want to have some control over things, and that’s where young players like Casey totally understand that need and are working hard at getting better. It’s the defensive side of the team that I’m so proud about so far. After three games this season and how little we’ve allowed in Pittsburgh, against New Jersey and even in Columbus the other day, they only had 11 or 12 five-on-five really good scoring chances against us in a game where we weren’t happy. Players like Casey are chipping in and working at that. I believe we have the offense to ignite up front if we can take care of our end first.
JW: We’ve got to let you go, it’s a game day. One of these weeks I want to talk to you about the Premier League. Going to want to talk some soccer at some point.
RK: We can have a soccer talk. It’s sure good to be back in hockey.
JW: Any truth to my theory that there are no morning skates because soccer is on early in the morning and it gives you a chance to maybe watch some games. Just saying, it fits into the schedule nicely for you.
RK: I have to tell you, honestly, the Premier League players don’t move the whole day and it was something I really looked with our sports science department at. And also, when I was over in the UK, about how the players prepared for their evening games and how little energy the exerted on game days. You make a joke out of it, but it’s not about watching the football.
JW: That is interesting. I know they do so much with player tracking over there, 90-minute games when you don’t have any substitutions or line changes, the tracking of how far you run. Just the lengths that that’s gone to is really fascinating.
RK: We’re doing a lot of that here. One of the things that really surprised me positively coming into Buffalo was how excellent the staff was put together already. I walked into a fully functioning high-performance machine here, which has really helped to launch everything in the right direction. We’re very, very advanced here in our sport science and how we use it and how we’re tracking the energy of the players, which is going to be important here as you already mentioned. I think we’ve got like 11 in the next 20 days or something where you really have to manage your energy.
HS: Again, thanks for your time with us this morning, Ralph, good luck tonight against the Canadiens.
RK: Ok, all the best to the listeners and let’s go Sabres.