Caps bank on a mature Schoenfeld

January 29, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals' new coach, Jim Schoenfeld, is going into this job with his eyes wide-open.

"It is a big job," he said last night from Philadelphia, where the Capitals will play the Flyers today. "The team is achieving well under expectations. I've got a group of players who aren't very resilient mentally. When something goes wrong, they expect the situation to get worse, not better.

"This is a team that has dug itself a points hole, to the point of being out of the playoffs, and an emotional and mental hole. You don't just jump out of it."

If the Capitals are committed to climbing out of this pit, and start changing their attitudes, then Schoenfeld said he believes good things can happen.

Schoenfeld was best known recently as an ESPN color analyst on hockey. But the 41-year-old former NHL player already had established his reputation on and off the ice.

He is a fiery motivator and a player's coach -- and his love of the game is unquestioned.

The only question seems to be this: Has he matured since his last coaching experience, when his demanding nature and intolerance for losing undermined his own work?

"It was his only problem, he couldn't stand losing," said New Jersey defenseman Ken Daneyko, who played for Schoenfeld when he coached the Devils from 1987-88 through the first 14 games of 1989-90. "That's the attitude every coach wants in a player. But when you're a coach you've got to handle it the right way. He got hard on some guys and some guys couldn't handle it as well. It almost hurt their game."

Schoenfeld does not shrink from the criticism. He says it is "absolutely right." But he adds that his time away from the game has helped and broadened his perspective.

"I still have a difficult time with it," he said. "But I've learned to handle it. Instead of allowing my emotion to rule, I've become more self- controlled.

"After a loss, instead of thinking the most important thing is to make sure the player hears what I'm saying, I've come to understand the most important thing is for me to understand where he is coming from and work with him from that point. I know that while letting my self go may make me feel better, it leavesthe player in emotional debris and we make no progress."

Tampa Bay assistant coach Danny Gare played with Schoenfeld for seven years in Buffalo, and the two of them will be inducted into the Sabres' Hall of Fame on March 30.

"Jimmy was a hard-nosed type of defenseman," Gare said. "He wasn't the most talented, but he worked hard and made up with effort what he might have lacked. He was always known for his intensity."

Intensity is what the Capitals have seemed to lack at times this season. Judging by the shock that swept through the team locker room Thursday night when the players were told of Terry Murray's firing, most of them don't realize how serious their shortcomings are.

After their 3-1 loss to Boston on Tuesday, several players were still shrugging their shoulders and saying it's a long season.

That kind of attitude might not work well under Schoenfeld.

"The thing that upsets me the most is a player who cheats himself, his teammates and his team," Schoenfeld said. "I don't know if it's a philosophy, it's more of a standard I expect.

"I believe very much in accountability, to each other, to the coaching staff, to fans, family and friends. I believe a player wants to be dealt with honestly and if they want to be treated that way, then they need to give an honest effort.

"You may enhance your skills and your intelligence to certain levels, but effort is one thing you can control. You can decide every day to give the biggest effort of all."

Schoenfeld has coached one full season and parts of three others in the NHL. It doesn't seem like much, but it shouldn't bother the Capitals. Aside from Milt Schmidt's 43-game coaching stint back in the mid-1970s, Schoenfeld comes to the Capitals with more NHL experience than any other head coach they've had.

None of the others had any.

CAPITALS TODAY

Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Site: The Spectrum, Philadelphia

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV: Channel 20

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: Washington lost, 7-2, Thursday in Buffalo in new coach Jim Schoenfeld's first game. Washington has lost four straight and six of its past seven. The Flyers come in off a 6-4 loss in Quebec but have won four of their past six and have a four-game home winning streak. The Caps report D Enrico Ciccone (pulled groin), RW Keith Jones (wrist) and C Dave Poulin (flu) day-to-day, and D Jason Woolley (torn abdominal muscle) out. Flyers C Pelle Eklund (strained hip), D Dimitri Yushkevich (lacerated elbow), C Andre Faust (abdominal strain) and G Dominic Roussel (back spasm) are day-to-day.

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