Can You Teach Heart?

Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters needs answers fast on his team’s apparent lack of heart and effort. The team is extending its October losing streak from last year, with a road trip looming against some very good NHL teams. While still early in the season, points are crucial for the ‘Canes right now, especially if they want to avoid the huge hole they were in on October 21, 2014.

In what was a stark contrast to their first game of the season against the Nashville Predators, the Hurricanes played with the intensity of a team in the playoffs in their home-opener against the Detroit Red Wings last Saturday night. It was a game they should have won if what mattered were heart, effort and shots on goal. However, Petr Mrazek was magical in-goal, saving 44 of 47 shots and the Red Wings left Raleigh with the win and the points.


As a member of the media and as a fan, I left that game with great encouragement that the team had put on such a display of intensity. You see, last year I wrote and wrote and wrote some more about the repeated mantra I heard so often at the end of many Hurricanes losses, especially at home, “We didn’t start on time.” In fact, I devoted an entire article of exit interviews asking the question of how it was that a professional sports team could say repeatedly that they did not start on time. (Read “Inside Hurricanes Locker Room Part 3” here).

The recurring short answer I got was that it was up to each player to get mentally prepared to play. Is it really that simple? As an observer I can’t wrap my mind around why it would not be, after all, these are guys making a lot of money to play a game.

What’s not to love about that? Shouldn’t there be a passion, a drive, heck at least an appreciation of where you are when you lace up the skates? If nothing else just being grateful to be on the ice seems like it would be motivational all by itself.

After the off-the charts energy I saw from this team against Detroit I hoped deep down that they had turned the corner on “not starting on time” and that at least that part of the ‘Canes rebuilding process could be checked off as ready.


Fast-forward to this past Tuesday night. It was the Florida Panthers in town, fresh off a road game and on paper a good match for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately there are not enough adequate adjectives to describe that game from the Hurricanes’ perspective. Awful. Disaster. Lackluster. Horrendous.

How about all of the above and more? What a terrible performance by a professional NHL team. It was brutally hard to watch. And in the end, nobody had any answers for what they witnessed on the ice. After the game Peters said,

“I didn’t see much. I don’t think we did much of anything. There weren’t many aspects or areas of the game that I liked.”

At least it’s heartening to know that Peters was watching the same thing the 10,000 or so in attendance were watching. Not a competitive hockey team giving their best to win a game, but a team that looked like they were lacking in concern for how they played or who won. A sample of social media shows that the fans are paying attention:


In an interesting read at Ryan Dadoun writes about the latest odds predicting which NHL coach will likely be fired first. Boston’s Claude Julien at 3/2 and Los Angeles’ Darryl Sutter at 2/1 top the list from online sportsbook Bovada. Carolina’s Peters is sixth on the list at odds of getting fired posted at 7/1.

First of all, Julien and Sutter both have won the Stanley Cup recently, in fact three of the last five.These odds show just how fast professional sports is all about “what have you done for me lately?” In my opinion, Julien and Sutter both deserve time to get their respective teams straight. And I feel the same way about Peters.

No, Peters has not brought a Cup to Raleigh after one year and three games of coaching. Talk of him being fired is to me very premature and ridiculous. He inherited a situation that was tenuous at best, and deserves time to change the culture of the Hurricanes. In my mind he should get a minimum of three years, maybe more.

I’m not on any fire Peters bandwagon, but the question has to be asked, “Can you teach heart?” Peters can coach, yell, scream, swear, motivate or all of the above until he is blue in the face. Ultimately it is on the players to own whatever it is that is missing in the heart department and do something to change it, soon.

The Bottom Line

A continued lack of “starting on time” or effort or energy by the ‘Canes will be inexcusable. Peters can teach a system, show young defensemen how to tighten gaps, and preach the importance of net front presence. What he cannot do, what Julien and Sutter cannot do, what no coach can do is teach heart.

Heart is on the players and it’s a culture that starts with the captain and other leaders on the team. Every player on this team needs to take a long look in ask themselves if they really want to win, if they’re really willing to pay the price necessary to hoist the Cup in June. If the answer is no then the fans would appreciate it if they’d kindly exit and let someone who wants it take your place.

Jordan Staal said after the loss to the Panthers,

“It was our compete level, especially in the first period. We can’t have a flat start like that and expect to win many hockey games.”

There you go, the compete level, the heart, the will to win. It was and has been missing from this team for a while, and it is not acceptable not at this level. The fans deserve much better.

Hurricanes fans can take losing in the name of rebuilding. They cannot and should not take losing because the players don’t care. If Mrazek saves 200 shots in a game and the ‘Canes lose but were playing with all their hearts, that’s disappointing, but an effort appreciated by the fans. On the other hand, if the team half-heartedly skates around and doesn’t care to tighten gaps or crash the net or forecheck, then something is wrong and the fans expect that to change immediately.

It’s past time for the Carolina Hurricanes to get a passion for winning and to show that they have heart. It’s time now.