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An interview with Phantoms coach Joe Paterson on style, developing talent and the need to win in the AHL

Photo via <a href="">The Saratogian</a>.
Photo via The Saratogian.

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- When the Adirondack Phantoms head coaching position became available in November of 2010, Joe Paterson was really the perfect fit. In fact, in a lot of ways, he was the only fit, considering not many folks were likely interested in taking a job with what could have been the worst team in AHL history.

But for Paterson, Glens Falls has always been a place where hockey has taken him. Between 1980 and 1984, Paterson played 169 games across four seasons for the Adirondack Red Wings, and after his playing career ended following the 1991-92 season, his first coaching gig came there too.

After two years as an assistant with the Red Wings, Paterson bounced around between Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., New Haven, Conn., Louisville, Hamilton and Toronto. With the Marlies, he served under Greg Gilbert, the man he'd ultimately replace in Glens Falls, where he's thought of as a local by the fans who greatly respect him as a hockey guy.

Of course, it helps that he's been a vital part of the strong turnaround the Phantoms have gone through in the second half of this season. Since he's taken over as head coach, the team has gone 20-12-8, as compared to... well, we don't need to compare the exact record before Paterson took over. It's just too embarrassing. 

Paterson's style is in stark contrast with that of his predecessor. Defenseman Kevin Marshall talked about that with us over the weekend.

"Joey's more of a calm, more technical, little details kind of a guy," he said. "Gibby was more of a 'get the room going' and get the guys goin' and stuff. They're both different styles of coaching."

That style has seemed to work for the team. Just look at the standings. 

Paterson's contract is up at the end of this current season (and as you'll see after the jump, he didn't like when we asked him about that topic), but it's hard to see him not returning. The town loves him, he's clearly made a home for himself in the area, and most importantly, the team is winning with him behind the bench. 

After the jump, you can see our full interview with Joe Paterson. We touched on a lot of different things, including the difference in his style as it compares to Peter Laviolette and what's done in Philadelphia, how to strike the balance between developing young talent and winning at the AHL level and the huge jump from the college game to the pro game. 

Grab the video and the full transcript after the jump.

BSH: You're only under contract for this season. How does that impact what you're doing now---

JOE PATERSON: Well, I don't think we need to talk about that. You guys came up and said you wanted to talk about the team and now you wanna talk about me. 

BSH: Well, we noticed the success you've had and how the team was struggling before you got here and you've turned the team around and started winning and you're getting players developed, so we were wondering how that's gonna look in your future and if this team is going to continue to turn around.

JP: I'm not really concerned about myself, actually. I'm more concerned about the players.

BSH: Okay. How about Riley Cote? How's he working on your staff?

JP: Oh, he's been good. He's a young guy, has a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. He's done a good job. He works some nights with the defensemen, some nights with the forwards.

BSH: Does he have a specific role as a coach -- power play, penalty kill?

JP: He's involved heavily in the penalty killing. He and [Kjell Samuelsson] got together -- Sammy hasn't always been here, he's had some things he's had to go back to Philadelphia to take care of, or New Jersey. Riley's done a good job in the penalty killing.

BSH: You have more of a defensive philosophy, at least from the few games I've seen this year. It seems that your -- and the personnel that are here are differs from what they have in Philadelphia and what Peter Laviolette is doing. 

JP: I think they have a lot of offense on the top two lines in Philadelphia. A lot of offense. But we're trying to score. We just want people to come back hard, back pressure hard, back above the puck to cut off passing lanes so we can go back on offense. If we can stop teams from coming out of their zone, that's a good line of defense if we can play back in their zone.

We try to play 60 percent of the time in the offensive end and 40 percent in our end. It's a matter of when you are back in your end, the quicker you can break up an offensive play from the opposition, you're going back on offense -- your own team. I would say we're very offensive minded.

We created 19 scoring chances out last game against Norfolk, had 13 against. We lost the game 2-1, had a couple of goal posts. If you look at the numbers of some of our players, we're not a great scoring team naturally. We have to do it with a lot of hard work, guys going to the front of the net, scoring some rebound goals once in a while. Goals have come very hard for us as a team.

BSH: Along those lines, most of the team is undrafted college players. There aren't so many European players anymore, not many Major Junior players. How does that change the philosophy and the strategy you employ?

JP: Well I think for those players individually it's just a longer season. You've got a guy like Mike Testwuide who comes from college and now, the number of games he's played, it's like two years of college for him. So the preparation for him on game day, he has to be a lot more prepared because we're playing so many games.

It's different than college where you're playing maybe once or twice a week and then you have a long period off, whereas we can play -- right now we're in a stretch where we have six games in eight days, so he has to be mentally prepared for it.

That's the big difference for a college kid, but in terms of the overall team preparation, whether they're from Sweden or somewhere else, we still play the same way as a team.

BSH: How do you separate ice time between the veterans like Denis Hamel and Danny Syvret versus Kevin Marshall and [Matt] Read last night? How do you handle that?

JP: Well, Read's playing on the top line with Denis Hamel so he's been getting a lot of ice time his first game. When guys are playing very well, they get more ice time. You want the players to be the best every night and when they play well they get more ice time and I think when your team knows that, it puts individual competition in there for ice time. All four of those players you mentioned got a lot of ice time and player pretty regular for us.

BSH: We noticed last night that Kevin Marshall and Danny Syvret were kinda counted on for a lot of minutes, especially in the first two periods -- they were out there almost every other shift. What does that do for the defense corps and what does that speak to Danny Syvret's importance?

JP: We find they really complement each other. Danny's a good puck-mover and Marshall's more of a defenseive, stay-at-home type of guy. They complement each other with what they both bring to the team. They both have been reliable late in games and as a team you don't want to get scored on at any point, but especially at the start of periods and at the end of periods. They've been good for us as shutdown guys.

BSH: Switching gears. I noticed that Shane Harper, when he came in, he was expected to be a fairly good guy in the AHL. It hasn't worked in the AHL but he has almost a point per game in the ECHL. Can you talk at all about Harper and the difference between the ECHL and the AHL and why it wasn't working so well?

JP; Well it's a big step. Anyone that comes out of Junior or college to this league, it's a huge step. You have guys that are 30 years of age, 31 years of age, some of them have NHL experience, some of them are married and this is what they do for a living -- they play in the American Hockey League. So for a young kid to come in here, some have success right away and some take longer. 

For him, he's playing down there and he's getting a lot of ice time. I think that's the most important thing for him and his development. Kris Draper, for example -- great NHL player, had a great career -- played two years in Winnipeg's organization in the American Hockey League, then he went to Detroit's organization, played a year there almost before he even got called up. So it took him three years to develop in this league, which is a good league. Once Kris Draper was ready, he became a great player and he's a great player still, won some Cups. 

The difference between the American league and the NHL is a lot closer, and when those players are ready, that step isn't as hard. But that step from college or Junior is a big step. 

BSH: Can you speak as to what that step does, why some are better at it than others, such as Eric Wellwood versus Luke Pither or Mike Testwuide versus Andrew Rowe? Those guys came from college, those guys came from Juniors and some are succeeding and some aren't. What makes a guy succeed here and what's holding those two back?

JP: I think some of it's consistency and part of the growth and if you look at younger players, if they could play 50 to 60 games in this league and have more quality practice time, I think that's important as well versus maybe playing all 80 games. Eric has just been a bit of a step ahead so he has a bit more of chance or a chance in Philadelphia, but it's just one of those things.

BSH: How do you balance the need to develop the young kids with the need to win in the AHL?

JP: That's a great question because Philadelphia is winning and they want their players to win down here, and we want them to earn their ice time down here and be good down here. There are situations sometimes where you might not win a game but you're developing, trying to develop in a winning environment. A lot of these kids have grown since the start of the season. Now we're into game 60, game 61 and the growth of some of them has been very good.

BSH: How about Marc-Andre Bourdon? We noticed that he got off to a bit of a slow start, went down with a concussion, then [Friday] night got in a fight. It's not what I'm used to seeing, so can you tell us where he's come from August?

JP: He went down for 51 days with an injury where he couldn't do much in terms of skating. He had to take some rest and some time off, so now to get him back we put him down in the East Coast Hockey League and he's very good about it -- went down with a good attitude, played some games down there. Now he's come up and we're working him back in the lineup.

If he had 14 minutes last night and he plays better tonight maybe he'll have 16 or 18, so it's how he plays. You have to put players in situations to be successful as well.

BSH: The fighting, the physical aspect of the game. Is that something you look for from him?

JP: I think that's the way he plays. He's a hard hitting defenseman. When you go down into the boards or into the corner, that's the way he plays. He finishes his checks and he plays hard on people. He gets other guys frustrated, just the way he plays. He's tough to play against, so if their other guy got upset with him, that's probably a good thing. It means he's doing his job and their other guy came after him and he defended himself.

We don't encourage fighting obviously, but it's still part of the game and if you play hard like he does it's going to happen.

BSH: Is that a change in his confidence? Over the summer he just had this look about him that he knew that he could take care of it and this year -- did the injury and the season make him a little tentative, make him more aggressive?

JP: I think you'd have to ask him about that, but I think what happens is you see a guy in camp, he gets some preseason games in and looks ready to play. He comes down here and there's been more players coming in here too so he had to continue to outplay those players to get a chance again. 

It changes year to year. Gustafsson wasn't in the organization, Danny Syvret wasn't in the organization, he got traded back in. So I'm just saying that at the time Marc-Andre was injured, Gustafsson was called up to play some games, so that happens. That's part of the development. The organization wants to stockpile as many good players as they can and it breeds good competition amongst the players too. 

Thanks to Coach Paterson, Bob Rotruck of the Phantoms and the Glens Falls Police, who let us walk into the Civic Center without even batting an eyelash.