It’s a word that is used extensively in sports and in business.
There are different interpretations of it but when you ask Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Rick Tocchet to come up with a definition, the response is a quick one.
“Culture to me is doing the right things every day - earning every day. We’re owed nothing and I feel the message that the players have bought into is that every day we have to earn our day. And that’s how you build culture. There is no entitlement – it’s about earning. I call it the two E’s. Either you’re going to be a team that’s entitled or team that earns it and I think we’re a team that wants to earn it every day,” Tocchet explained after the game day skate prior to the contest against the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena on Friday night.
Building that culture is an ongoing process. Success, they say, is a journey and not a destination. It’s about constantly trying to find ways to improve through the ‘staples’ that Tocchet mentions on a regular basis - staples such as discipline, a consistent work ethic, attention to detail and holding one another accountable.
The good news is that the organization is trending in the right direction when it comes to building that culture.
Tocchet and his staff are holding players accountable to a level that wasn’t seen with previous head coach Bruce Boudreau. As much as the players liked Boudreau, to a man they will agree that there is a different standard now.
“For sure, yeah,” Brock Boeser replied when questioned about there being more accountability with Tocchet. “In general, he’s not afraid of calling someone out if they’re not doing their job. That’s one of the things he said from the start is that there is going to be more accountability around here and he’s been good with that.”
It’s something that Canucks captain Quinn Hughes has also noticed.
“I do (think there’s more). He’s so smart that he sees things that maybe other coaches would let slide. He’s really on the details. He’s not crazy about it and yelling at guys every meeting but he wants to work with the players. He doesn’t want to embarrass anyone. He just wants to teach and help us get the best out of each individual,” Hughes stated.
Tocchet, however, will take more of a direct approach if needed to make sure his message is getting across.
“He’s not afraid to call someone out if they’re not doing their job. That’s one of the things that he said from the start - that there’s going to be more accountability around here. So he’s been good with that,” said Boeser.
Better yet, Tocchet has communicated to his leadership group to hold the players accountable amongst themselves.
“When Rick came in last year, we started talking about that. Guys have become better with each other when it comes to communicating and talking about that aspect. I think we kind of set the standard and we want to continue to build on that,” noted Boeser.
For Tocchet, a positive sign in that regard was how the team responded to a lacklustre effort in a 2-0 loss in Philadelphia on their recent five-game road trip.
“We stated the fact. The leadership group knew where we were at and they chipped away at it and I thought we got better each game (afterwards). To me that’s a positive sign - that they’re running the room and not the coaches. Obviously, we have to guide the team and do our thing but I really like it when there’s a little bit of a brush fire and the players can put it out. It doesn’t always have to be the coach. If you don’t put out those little fires, they become forest fires and I think our leadership group has done a nice job of getting to the problems before they get to me,” said Tocchet
But building that culture doesn’t stop in Vancouver, it’s a focal point with the AHL farm team in Abbotsford and down the line according to Tocchet.
“I’ll actually take it a step further for you. I think that’s important that you know what is a Vancouver Canuck? What are our values? How do we practice? How do we play? What’s important to us? I think that’s really what it comes down to. It’s the (Mike) Komisareks, the (Chris) Higgins’ and the (Mikael) Samuelssons that are running our player development. They’re preaching what we’re talking about. And then all of a sudden, it’s a conveyor belt. Now they go to Abbotsford where Jeremy Colliton, who is a great coach, takes it. So now they get to us. You don’t have a finished product, but at least you got some parts to work whereas sometimes you have an 18-year-old player that really hasn’t been taught and now you get him at 23 and you have to re-teach him things,” explained Tocchet.
Tocchet and his staff have a lot of currency with the players for a couple of reasons.
It’s easier to get players to buy in to your program when you’re winning – which is what the Canucks are doing now – because winning reinforces the process.
Then throw in the fact that Tocchet has three Stanley Cup rings to his credit and knows what it takes to win in the NHL, which is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his players.
“He’s a guy that’s been there and done it. He understands how the players might feel. He’s done everything we’re trying to do. He loves the game and has a lot of passion for it and understands at a high level. He has a high compete level and just wants to win. He’s going to give the players the best opportunity to perform at their best,” said Hughes.
Despite the Canucks solid start to the season which saw the team improve to 5-2-0-0 after knocking off the Blues by a score of 5-0, life in the NHL is only going to get tougher according to Tocchet.
“It’s great (the start). We all wanted it. I was just worried that guys would be too tight but I felt they were sticking with the process. The mental toughness…it’s going to get harder. If guys think it’s not going to get hard, well it’s going to get really hard. So we have to embrace that it’s going to get harder,” said Tocchet.
The good sign for the hockey club is that it appears to be better-equipped to handle the grind of an 82-game NHL season given what they’re building in that dressing room.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.