Head coach Dave Tippett and his Phoenix Coyotes will entertain the Calgary Flames on Saturday evening (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET), and not far from where the Flames play sits Drumheller.
The Alberta town sits 110 kilometres to the northeast of Calgary. It is where Jack (Tex) Evans was raised. The old coach passed away in November 1996 at age 68, but his influence in the hockey world still is very much alive.
There is Tippett, who played for Evans with the Hartford Whalers as did Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. Boston Bruins bench boss Claude Julien and his New York Rangers counterpart Alain Vigneault patrolled the same blue-line under Evans with the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles of the old Central Hockey League in the early 1980s.
Twenty-eight years ago, Evans was the architect of a Whalers team that upset the mighty Quebec Nordiques with a first-round sweep and took the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Montreal Canadiens to overtime in a seventh game in the second round.
From that team alone, there still are 15 players involved in the game at an elite level.
"Jack was a stoic man, very honest, methodical, an old-school guy," Tippett said. "Playing for him and later being his assistant coach was an eye-opener for me. He had this ability to have the right people on the ice at the right time.
"This was a different time, the mid-1980s. If you were in the NHL, it was assumed you knew how to play. Now there is a lot more teaching."
Tippett remembers that Evans made coming to the rink fun. Sometimes the guys didn't want to leave. They often sat around the dressing room for hours after practice, discussing strategy. Or they carried on the conversation about the game over lunch.
Evans was a hard-rock defenceman, who played in 809 NHL career regular season and playoff games. He began his career as the seventh man on the Rangers' blue-line in the early 1950s. But he kept at his craft and eventually won a regular spot with the Blackhawks, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 1961.
In the semifinals back then, Chicago ended the Montreal Canadiens of five consecutive championships when Evans knocked Jean Beliveau out of action with a clean, but bone-crunching hit.
"Jack Evans is probably the pro coach I talk the most about," Julien said. "He was unique in his way. I had so much respect for the guy. He was quiet and he would let you play, but he had a demeanour in that if you didn't do what he wanted to do, you knew you were in trouble. He didn't have to say anything. He had a great presence."
Julien recalled he knew his coach was tough, but he didn't know to what extreme until one day the Golden Eagles were on a flight as Julien read a newspaper. There was a story that recalled a minor-league, stick-swinging incident three decades earlier between Larry Ziedel and Evans.
Julien couldn't believe what he read. The story detailed how Evans and Ziedel broke sticks over each other's head. There was blood, bruises and ripped open flesh. Julien glanced at Evans, who was sitting across the aisle, after he finished the story.
"The story said they both got stitched up and returned to the game," Julien said. "You know, all the years I knew him, he never spoke about that incident. But you could see it in his face, his sense of toughness."
It wasn't until years later Julien came to appreciate his coach's tough love. In his first season under Evans, Julien was voted the team's top rookie defenceman. But that didn't stop Evans from making Julien a healthy scratch 10 times that year.
"I would show up at the rink and my sweater would not be hanging in my stall," Julien said. "That's how I found out I wasn't playing. I would leave the room angry. I was steaming.
"But he was teaching me a life lesson. He was teaching me not to take anything for granted. He made me a much-more consistent player who came to the rink to work hard every day. I appreciate that life lesson all these years later."
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