Just In Time(Out)
Coaches Only Get One, and Try to Use it Wisely
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Often cited as a critical moment in the Boston Bruins' run to the 2011 Stanley Cup is — of all things — a timeout, one that was called by head coach Claude Julien in Game 4 of the Bruins' first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens.
Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series — and playing in front of a raucous crowd at Montreal's Bell Centre — the Bruins fell behind their age-old rivals by a 3-1 score in the second period. At that time, Julien called a pivotal timeout — the one that is seen now as a turning point in the series.
The 60-second breather allowed Boston to re-group and ready itself for a comeback that culminated in Michael Ryder's overtime game winner later that evening.
The Bruins, of course, went on to win the series and, weeks later, the Stanley Cup. And in the New England Sports Network's (NESN) recent countdown of the top 50 moments of the Boston Bruins' 2010-11 season, "The Timeout" was No. 13.
In general, with only one at their disposal, when do coaches choose to call their timeouts? Options, as most college hockey fans know, include: following an icing to rest a tired group of players, late in the game to diagram a potential game-tying goal, or any time to regain lost momentum.
Recently, three NCAA coaches — Boston University's Jack Parker, Denver's George Gwozdecky, and RIT's Wayne Wilson, who have won a combined 1652 games — took time out (pun intended) to discuss their recent opportunities to "call time."
Last weekend's matchup between BU and Denver saw Parker's Terriers enter the second period with a 1-0 lead over Gwozdecky's Pioneers. Less than two minutes later, after dramatically scoring two short-handed goals on the same Denver power play, BU had quickly extended its lead to 4-0.
Many in the arena expected Gwozdecky, winner of back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005, to steady his team with a timeout.
And Denver came storming back anyway, with Pioneers captain Drew Shore scoring with an extra-attacker on the ice late in the third period, cutting the once dominant BU lead to 4-3. Finally, Gwozdecky called his timeout — the one he had saved earlier — with 22 seconds to play, to set up an offensive zone scoring opportunity.
"One of the opportunities you get this early in the year in a nonconference series is to see how the team responds," explained Gwozdecky afterwards. "I think if this was an in-conference game or maybe means a little bit more, you use that timeout to calm your team down and get them to re-focus.
"I thought about that a number of times in that second period, but I really wanted to see how they would respond as the game was going on. Without having that opportunity to take a breath."
Parker, meanwhile, chose to use his timeout in that game with over four minutes to go in the third period. Boston University was leading 4-2, but the momentum had already noticeably shifted to the Pioneers.
"We just used our first two lines, and they were exhausted, and the defensive crew was exhausted," said Parker, discussing his decision to use his timeout at that moment. "So I wanted to give them a blow because I knew we were going to go with our top two lines the rest of the way and with our top four defensemen.
"We shortened the bench a little bit, but we had to give them a breather."
The Terriers held on for a 4-3 home victory, but the decisions — first by Gwozdecky not to call a timeout, then by both coaches to pause the game at critical junctions — made for an intriguing sub-plot.
Meanwhile, about 400 miles along I-90 to the west, RIT coach Wayne Wilson — who, recall, just two seasons ago led the Tigers all the way to the Frozen Four — used his lone timeout with RIT trailing St. Lawrence 5-4 and just 53 seconds of regulation play remaining.
Forty-four seconds after the timeout and with the game clock winding down, junior right wing Adam Hartley sent over 10,000 fans at Rochester's Blue Cross Arena into a frenzy by collecting a loose rebound in the crease and scoring the game-tying goal.
RIT then needed only 14 seconds of overtime before sophomore Adam Mitchell scored the game winner on a rush through the slot, giving the Tigers their first win of the season.
"I took my timeout to get the right players on the ice and go over our faceoff," said Wilson. "We practiced this during the week, so they knew the play. But the personnel sometimes changes. I don't try to say too much but show confidence and conviction in what we are doing. This is what we do when we are down one goal. We would do the same if we were up a goal."
The best hockey goaltenders — and the defenses in front of them — are often described as "stingy." Their coaches, of course, are stingy as well. Unlike coaches in basketball or football, hockey coaches can pause the game with a timeout just once per contest.
And as evident by the recent examples described by Parker, Gwozdecky, and Wilson, when — or if — the coach uses that one timeout opportunity can represent an important turning point in a game.
Or, as in the Bruins' example, perhaps even a season.