In his two-plus seasons as head coach of the Alaska Aces, Rob Murray has never sounded as disappointed with his club as he sounded to The Blog tonight following a 2-0 loss in Utah.
Never mind that the Grizzlies' win marked the first shutout they have fed the Aces in 87 all-time meetings. Or that a couple of the Aces' best players -- winger and leading scorer Peter Sivak and defenseman Kane Lafranchise remain up with AHL Abbotsford. Or that winger Andy Taranto (shoulder) is probably out long-term after suffering his injury early in the second period tonight, or that defenseman Corey Syvret (lower-body) was hurt too.
Murray criticized his team's lack of effort and lack of sandpaper. And those are two areas held in the highest regard in hockey -- you are expected to work like a dog and battle, battle, battle, and eschew shortcuts. That's a given.
Back in the day, hockey coaches had a punishment that was their default plan when they were unhappy: The Bag Skate. No pucks. Just skating. End line to blue line, blue line back to end line, back to red line, etc., repeat until there's some puking. The Blog has never been quite sure if The Bag Skate got that name because -- sorry to be indelicate -- you skate your bag off, or because you need a bag to vomit into or, back in the day, players got back from a road trip, were told to get their wet, smelly gear out of their equipment bags and get ready to skate. Doesn't really matter -- The Bag Skate is just one of those cool-sounding hockey terms that gets truncated when guys are telling stories. "So, we were terrible that game, and the next day coach totally bagged us.''
Several coaches I have talked to recently believe the old-school method doesn't work well these days. Players will do the skating, of course -- otherwise, they'd get fired. But they won't be happy about it, and they generally won't respond well, according to this school of thought.
Here's the best we can come up with on short notice, and from long distance, as an example.
ECHL Toledo got waxed 7-rip by South Carolina last week. Coach Nick Vitucci, according to several reports, put his team through a post-game bag skate. Well, Toledo promptly was shut out in each of its next two games. Sure, there may have been some other cause and effect in play, but we can say definitively that there's no evidence The Bag Skate worked.
Murray is one of the coaches who believe bag skates don't work in this era. He said he put the team through a very difficult practice last Saturday in Colorado, following a 2-1 loss the night before, but considered it a conditioning day. (Maybe that's a bag skate in disguise -- tomato, to-mah-to).
In any event, The Blog doubts Murray will resort to a bag skate Thursday. For one, he doesn't think it works. Two, the Aces have games with the Grizzlies on Friday and Saturday, so no need to empty the tanks Thursday.
It's up to the coaches and players to figure out how to escape a season-worst, three-game losing streak that has begun an eight-game road trip.
Win or lose Friday, we'd be stunned if the Aces don't at least generate an effort Murray finds satisfactory.