ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Greg Cronin spent 36 years coaching at nearly every level of hockey before finally getting his first shot at being an NHL head coach. He believes the struggling but talented Anaheim Ducks will be worth the extraordinary wait.
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Greg Cronin spent 36 years coaching at nearly every level of hockey before finally getting his first shot at being an NHL head coach.
He believes the struggling but talented Anaheim Ducks will be worth the extraordinary wait.
General manager Pat Verbeek hired the 60-year-old Cronin on Monday to lead the Ducks’ rebuilding effort after the worst five-year skid in franchise history. Cronin is a former NHL assistant and former head coach in both the AHL and Northeastern, receiving widespread praise for teaching sound principles and leading young players.
For Cronin, who spent the past five seasons leading the Colorado Avalanche’s highly successful AHL affiliate, the Ducks’ combination of young talent and a patient organization are ideal, and as a surfer and long-distance runner, he should fit the style of Orange County life as Good.
“I think this is right (in) my wheelhouse as a coach,” Cronin said during a news conference at the Honda Center. “I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and I can’t stress enough how happy I am to be here.”
Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and two seasons with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native with a thick Boston accent also played a major role in creating the US Hockey National Team Development Program in the late 1990s.
When Cronin’s hiring became public, he began receiving text messages from players he had helped during his three and a half decades in the profession since the 1980s at the University of Maine, where he coached Hall of Famer Ducks fame, Paul Kariya. Cronin has relationships at all levels of hockey, and his knowledge and experience were just some of the reasons Verbeek called him “a great choice” to take over a rebuilding team.
“Personally, I think this is long overdue for (Cronin),” Verbeek said. “He brings a passion and energy that is contagious. I was looking for someone who could develop a culture of high standards, work ethic, and responsibility. Greg has an outstanding record in those areas.”
Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract was not renewed in April after the Ducks ended their fourth straight losing season in his tenure. Anaheim finished last season in last place in the NHL overall standings at 23-47-12 and earned the second overall pick in the draft lottery.
Cronin knows he’s starting at the bottom, but his experience and preparation give him the confidence to make it work.
“There are certain things that are very doable,” Cronin said. “Everyone is going to compete at an extraordinary level. That’s kind of my mantra. And then you always have to match your level of competence to your brain. You have to be smart about how you do it.”
How long has Cronin been in this game? He briefly coached Eakins with the Islanders, then coached current Ducks center Ryan Strome during his second stint as an assistant on Long Island 15 years later.
But Cronin only got his first interview for an NHL head coaching job last year with his hometown Boston Bruins. He immediately wowed Verbeek in their first conversation last month, a scheduled two-hour interview that lasted for five hours.
“I was looking for a teacher and a coach,” Verbeek said. “Old school principles, but new school teaching methods.”
Among various mentors and influences on his coaching style, Cronin cited his former Isles bosses Mike Milbury and Butch Goring, along with Randy Carlyle, the longtime Ducks head coach who employed Cronin with the Maple Leafs. .
Cronin said Milbury’s no-nonsense style influenced his own treatment of the players. He recalls a formative moment in the cavernous halls beneath the old Nassau Coliseum when Milbury confronted him about his concerns about giving a player difficult instructions.
“He took me to the driveway and said, ‘If you’re going to sweeten a message, then get in your car and drive back to Boston,’” Cronin recalled. “That hit me right between the eyes. He continued with: ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from or how old you are. Players want to know that you care about them, you’re honest and you’re going to give them a positive message.’ That stuck with me. Mike said all the time, ‘Go into a player’s soul.’”
Cronin is taking over a franchise near its nadir, but with a relatively bright future.
The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They have missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the worst defensive team in the NHL of the 21st century by several measures during the season just ended.
But Anaheim is also brimming with young talent, with the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft joining one of the best farm systems in the NHL. The Ducks’ base includes playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and up-and-coming forward Mason McTavish, along with several other prospects expected to become solid NHL players.
While Cronin said he hasn’t thoroughly assessed the Ducks’ talent base, he did refer to Terry, Zegras and McTavish as the “pillars” of the new team.
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Greg Beacham, Associated Press