Knowing the pulse of the game and your hockey club is a coach’s strongest attribute. That trait becomes refined and perfected over time.
Greg Gilbert has mastered that skill over the years and is now applying it to the ultra-talented Saint John Sea Dogs. Gilbert has embraced his new role and is quickly gauging the pulse of all of his players. “It feels great,” Gilbert said of being back behind the bench of a Major Junior hockey club.
“I’ve been chopping at the bit ever since I left Saginaw. I’m finally getting an opportunity again and it’s greatly appreciated.”
“I have to thank Scott McCain and Trevor Georgie for giving me that opportunity,” Gilbert said.
With expectations at all-time high in the Port City, the Sea Dogs have gotten off to a less than stellar start to the 2020-2021 campaign. The question remains what’s wrong with the Saint John Sea Dogs?
“The game of hockey even though it evolves it is based on details.”
“There’s no question hockey is a game of mistakes and we are going through a growing phase as a group,” explained Gilbert.
The three-time Stanley Cup Champion and longtime coach knows what it takes to build a winning team. “We are doing things differently. The pace that I want to play at compared to the pace that the players played at before is very different.”
“We are implementing a style that we are moving all the time.”
For Gilbert it’s all about high intensity and speed. “We are going through that phase right now and it’s been tough on the kids.”
“Playing at a slower pace or pacing themselves having a minute-long shift and stuff like that is exactly the opposite of how I want us to play,” stressed Gilbert.
“We want thirty-five to forty second shifts of high tempo and high energy where they are always moving and staying fresher for longer rather than playing at a slower pace.”
Gilbert has witnessed the Dogs buy in to his style of play over the first few weeks of the season. Nevertheless, the players haven’t been able to sustain it.
“We have out played some teams for two periods, but we need to do it for sixty minutes in order win hockey games in this league,” Gilbert said.
“We are getting to that point and the kids are working and they are going through a growing process and also learning what’s expected and how we are going to play and the style of play.”
“The expectations are there and they understand it,” stressed Gilbert.
There’s a very fine line between winning and losing in the QMJHL. “I think we could have won a couple of the games that we have played.”
“We out chanced, out played and out shot some teams, but it’s the same old thing if you look at the board and stats, but at the end of the night we are down by one or two.”
“It’s just that phase we are going through on this growth process with this group,” Gilbert said.
All eyes remain fixated on the Port City and their high-profile talented core group. Expectations are very high given the depth of talent on the roster. Obviously, Greg Gilbert has seen it all as a player and coach, but how does he intend on balancing high expectations, pressure and how challenging is that aspect being a new voice to the group?
“It’s not so much the challenging side of it,” Gilbert said.
“The expectations were there and they have been put on this team because we have skill, because we have good young players that are coming up together.”
“Everyone thinks its automatically going to happen, but as a coaching staff right now we are facing a culture change,” said Gilbert.
“They are coming from two years of getting their back sides kicked and two years of getting your back sides kicked is something that is a mental challenge for these players.”
“It’s trying to change their frame of mind, their thinking and thought process. Instead of waiting for something bad to happen or having an excuse to fall by the way side which we are trying to get rid of that one and taking the approach that we are here to win,” Gilbert said.
“We aren’t looking at the outcome of the game, we are looking at the process that we have to put forth shift after the shift and the energy we have to put forth to obtain what we want to by the end of the night.”
What will it take for the Sea Dogs to turn the corner this season and are they close? “There’s been a lot of bad habits that have been created here the last two years and we are working our way through that,” stressed Gilbert.
“One of those bad habits is pace of play.”
“I don’t want to play at a slow pace, I want to play at a faster pace. I want shooters, I want everyone on the ice to be a threat. In the past this team always wanted to do the fancy plays and the saucer passes and things like that.”
“We want to play a more straight-ahead game and our skill will take over when the work ethic gets to where it needs to be and it’s not there yet.”
“I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, because our kids are working their back sides off. The process is moving in the right direction; the results will follow when we get to where we need to be,” explained Gilbert.
“I’m seeing improvements since day one of camp,” Gilbert said.
“Are we where we need to be, no, but I’ve seen glimpses of it.”
The Dogs defensive zone continues to be an area of concern. “We have to stay with the plan and keep working on the things we need to work on.”
“The style of play I’m trying to implement here and I’m not saying it’s more defensive, but we have to have more responsibility defensively,” stressed Gilbert.
“The better we get at that the more we are going to play in the offensive zone and we do have the skill.”
“We haven’t been scoring as much as everyone said we were going to score, but we are creating opportunities so it’s just a matter of finishing.”
“I know our guys are going to be able to finish once everything falls into place,” Gilbert said confidently.
“You can’t put a time frame on when things are going to turn around, you just can’t do that.”
“This is junior hockey and they are teenagers, are we heading in the right direction, absolutely we are,” Gilbert said.
“Our numbers and the wins and losses aren’t where we want them to be.”
“No one is happy with that, but we are seeing progress and that the mentality is changing and the work ethic is starting to change and style of play is starting to change.”
“We aren’t far off, but it’s still going to take more work to get to where we want to go.”
How important is character and do the highly skilled Sea Dogs have enough? “Character and leadership are vitally important to any team in any sport and that’s what we are trying to build here is the character,” said Gilbert.
“I want to name a captain soon, so we have that one soul leader of our team.”
“They don’t have to be a yeller or screamer, just a leader by character and bring that every day,” explained Gilbert.
“Leadership is very strong and we need it to be very strong, it’s getting better.”
“I don’t have a first or second line. I have four lines that I want to be able to play and compete against anybody.”
“If you go down that list in our bottom six, sometimes they have been our best players.”
“I’m not with this that our top two lines are skilled guys and they are going to get all of the opportunity, that’s bolongy to me,” said Gilbert.
“Every night is a new situation where whoever is playing and competing and playing the right way is going to get the opportunity and guys that aren’t skilled or no skill are going sit and watch.”
“Once that message gets through our team which I think it has because I haven’t played some players that are good players for us and we need them to be good players for us, but what is accepted and what isn’t accepted is the message being sent,” said Gilbert.
“People can go from the first line to the fourth line and that doesn’t mean anything, I’m trying to find our best combinations.”
“If our top end skill guys are our hardest workers that’s awesome because everyone follows.”
“If our bottom six are the hardest workers and our skilled guys are cutting corners than I have a problem and that problem will be addressed.”
“Everyone has to compete and work the same, some guys have more skill there’s no question about it, but that’s how we are going to start winning hockey games when everyone is competing and playing the same way.”
“Character is in each individual in that dressing room and it’s a matter of how it comes out and how it shows. We can see as coaches that the players will always give us the answer,” Gilbert said.
“I learned that when I was younger and I’ve always believed that the players will always give us the answer.”
There’s no question Greg Gilbert was the perfect hire for the Saint John Sea Dogs and that he has his fingers on the pulse of his hockey club.