Hockey coaches not afraid to show some emotion on the bench this post-season

·3 min read

TORONTO — The stoic, high-intensity style of hockey coaches who barely blink on the bench after a big goal may be changing somewhat in this NHL post-season.

And Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe appears to be leading the way.

He just about jumped out of his shoes in Toronto's first OT win of the playoffs. The sequel a few nights later was just as emphatic.

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"It's just nice to see the emotion," said Maple Leafs forward Ryan O'Reilly. "Everyone's buying in, everyone wants it that bad."

Vegas Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy isn't one to whoop it up on the bench, but he sure doesn't begrudge Keefe for his celebration in Tampa Bay.

"He should have done it in the overtime in Game 6 right? Because it's been awhile for Toronto. I wouldn't say give him a pass, but I'd allow him to do whatever he wants," said Cassidy. "They've paid their dues in Toronto, that organization, so good for them."

Other coaches are loosening up on the bench too.

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft hasn't been afraid to show some excitement. Kings head coach Todd McLellan, in a change from his reserved style, extended arms with clenched fists after a game-winner in the first round.

Celebration techniques can run the gamut across the sports world. Basketball coaches and baseball managers tend to keep a low profile in big moments but some soccer coaches aren't afraid to go into full celebration mode on the sideline.

Hockey might offer the most intense coaching crew of the bunch. It's not unusual to see a coach barely react to a big goal on the ice before peering along the bench, eyebrows scrunched, completely locked in on the next task.

"I think every group is different in their own way," said Jets assistant coach Brad Lauer. "I think sometimes the timing of when the goal is scored, you're excited inside. You may not show it as a coach but I think also you're thinking about what to do with the next line up and where we're going to go next.

"You're always trying to think ahead of the game. Every staff is different and everybody brings a little different excitement I guess in different periods of the game. For us we're a little bit of a calmer demeanour kind of group."

Things do seem to be changing somewhat in these playoffs. Perhaps it's due to the many close games and overtime thrillers over the first few weeks.

Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt dabbles in coaching over the summer at hockey camps in Minnesota. He said he'll often get "pretty animated" and sometimes more excited than the kids when he's on the bench.

Schmidt added he's not quite sure how professional coaches keep it so together when tension is high.

"Honestly, kudos to them. I don't know they handle it," he said. "Maybe it's more of a sigh of relief than anything for them. I find that that's tough for me … I like to have a lot of energy on the bench."

Lauer said he tries not to show too much emotion even though he might be feeling it.

"Inside you're extremely excited about what's going on and what's happening and the process of the game," he said. "I think sometimes you're thinking about the next thing and making sure you're ready."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.

With files from Canadian Press hockey writer Joshua Clipperton and Donna Spencer.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press