Unknown Clouston ready for challenge with Senators
New coach, proven winner excited about NHL team's offensive potential
Cory Clouston is too busy winning hockey games to worry about Ottawa Senators fans that questioned why he was chosen as the ninth head coach in franchise history.
The 39-year-old was the first to admit during his introductory news conference on Monday that he has the tendency to fly under the radar whenever he steps behind a new bench.
"I've kind of been an unknown every level I've coached, but I don't worry about that," he said. "When you look at the big picture, I'm very confident in myself."
Clouston has every right to feel that way. He's been a winner practically everywhere he's travelled in hockey. Most recently, he guided the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., leading them to a 25-16-6 this season.
The next challenge for Clouston, who has never coached in the National Hockey League, is to bring the parent club back to respectability. Dare we say a playoff spot, which is 14 points and five teams in the distance for the Eastern Conference team?
Just two years ago, the Ottawa Senators advanced to the 2007 Stanley Cup final against Anaheim, but have managed only 35 victories in their past 96 games. They entered Monday's action 28th in the 30-team NHL this season with a 17-24-7 record.
"For the most part, the nucleus [from that 2007 Senators team] is still there and they've shown they can [win]," said Clouston, who left the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League in 2007 to become head coach at Binghamton. "Now it's a matter of getting back to that point."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray believes Clouston is the man to get the job done.
'He earned the job': GM says
"Cory has spent two years in our organization, he knows our players, he knows our prospects and I know he gets maximum performance out of his players in the American Hockey League," Murray said during Monday's news conference.
"I think he earned this job, I think he deserved the job and I want him to have the chance to be the guy here."
After playing four years with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, Clouston began his coaching career in junior hockey in 1994 as an assistant with the Powell River Paper Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.
From there, the native of Viking, Alta., compiled a .627 winning percentage in his four-year stay in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with Grand Prairie. In 1996, he was named the league's top coach.
Clouston was an assistant to Ryan McGill for two years in Kootenay — winning the Memorial Cup in 2002 — before taking over that summer. In five seasons as head coach, his teams made the playoffs each year and boasted a .637 winning percentage with 209 wins, 110 losses, 24 overtime losses and 15 shootout defeats.
Along the way, Clouston twice was named WHL coach of the year (2005, 2007) and took home Canadian Hockey League coach of the year honours in 2005 after the Ice fashioned a 47-15-10 mark.
Coached for 15 years
"I think I have a good knowledge of the game," Clouston told reporters Monday. "I've coached for 15 years and you learn a lot when you work your way up from Junior A to major junior to the American league."
Clouston understands players need to feel good about themselves coming to the rink in order to play to their potential as individuals and as a team.
Stopping short of calling himself a player's coach, Clouston said he tries to create a foundation with his teams, an environment where players like to come to the rink, know exactly what is expected of them, know how they're supposed to play and allow them to go out and do their jobs.
"If you can do that," he said, "I think you'll have a successful team."
In Ottawa, Clouston succeeds the fired Craig Hartsburg, who was unable to get enough offence out of his players — the Senators rank 28th in goals per game — or find a way to compensate for the lack of a puck-moving defenceman.
Starting with Tuesday's home game against the Los Angeles Kings, Clouston said his charges must work on being a tougher outfit to play against, but not from a defensive point of view.
It's all about plans
"I watched [Sunday's 7-4 loss to Washington]. It's just being able to have a plan to get the puck out of our zone, have a plan to get the puck out of the neutral zone and put some pressure on teams offensively," said Clouston, who was head coach of Canada's under-18 team that won the 2006 Junior World Cup.
"We have some guys that can create some pressure on the forecheck. People who have watched my teams play or try to pigeonhole me, they would say I'm a defensive-minded coach. But for the most part, every team I've coached has been at or near the top of goals for."
Clouston said the Binghamton power play has led the AHL all season, while the Baby Senators stand fifth in the 14-team Eastern Conference with 134 goals against in 47 contests.
"I still think you can be conscious of your defensive zone — and I think that's where it all starts — but I really believe that [Ottawa] is a lot better offensively and they just need to have a little bit more of a plan to create that offence.
"These guys want to win, they want to compete. They just want some guidance … direction and support. That's why I'm here today."
Senators fans will gladly take a Kootenay-like deal with Clouston of five seasons and five playoff appearances.