The 1992-1993 Ottawa Senators from Misfits to Motivators by Larry Berman
Heading into their 20th anniversary season since returning to the NHL there were few hockey analysts that picked the Ottawa Senators to finish anywhere other than last place overall in the Eastern Conference. Defying all of their critics and ignoring a dismal 2010-2011 season, the 2011-2012 Ottawa Senators proved them all wrong and made the playoffs mainly due to their work ethic. Looking back, most of us remember the inaugural Ottawa Senators from 1992-1993 who possessed a remarkable work ethic although not much else. What you might not know is how so many of the first year Senators who brought their lunch pails to the rink with them then, have moved behind the players bench and become motivators throughout professional hockey.
Despite their dismal record in 1992-1993 they did have one remarkable accomplishment; using the difficult experience from their season as motivation into the next phase of their hockey careers. In doing so, they represent the largest percentage of players from any one team to move on to coaching careers in the history of the NHL.
Mel Bridgman, the Senators first general manager described the efforts to establish a solid work ethic as the culture for the club during that first season. “The coaching staff did an excellent job in that they kept the players focused and working hard throughout the season. As a coach, you obviously want to win and you’re judged by your success but with an expansion franchise the focus is on player development just as much as it is on wins. When the young players came in and saw the veterans like Laurie Boschman and Brad Marsh they were able to learn the critical lessons of the game from them.”
Rick Bowness who is currently an Assistant Coach with the Vancouver Cannucks was the Senators first head coach and he described the makeup of the inaugural team: “The one common denominator with the guys from that team was that the all had a pure love for the game. I think their passion for the game drove them more than anything else and because of that I’m not surprised at all that they got into coaching once their playing careers ended. Although I am surprised how many of them did make the transition. Coaching is all about finding ways to challenge your players even when they’re giving it all they’ve got. Daniel Alfredsson is the only player still with the club that Bowness coached but “Daniel learned very quickly that he had to work as hard as the group of players surrounding him if he wanted to play.” As many people might not remember Alfredsson wasn’t a lock to make the Senators during training camp and was actually slated to play in the minors to open the season. His realization and hard work during his rookie season in helped him the win Calder Trophy and he’s never looked back, captaining the Senators to their first (modern era) Stanley Cup in 2007 and returning them to their winning ways this season. Somewhere along the way Alfredsson was able to teach his current teammates the valuable lesson of coming together as a team, an important trait of any winning franchise.
Brad Shaw is currently an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues and some have said is one of the best candidates to fill the next head coaching vacancy in the NHL. He discussed how he still draws on the experience of playing for the Senators during the 1992-1993 season: “When I see guys starting to feel sorry for themselves when things are not going well on the ice, I talk about that season and what an important lesson it was for everyone that went through it.” Without coming together as a team they might have won the 10 games that they did out of the 84 that they played and “it took every ounce of mental and physical effort just for us to stay focused. I’ve never had a year like that one in my career whether playing or coaching.” Shaw went on to explain how the 1992-1993 Senators represent a great example of how character can keep a team afloat every day. “As a player, you remember the really good years and you try to forget the bad ones but I don’t think any of us will ever forget a record of 10 wins, 70 losses and 4 ties. I’m sure everyone who played there would have loved to stick around until the team because as good as it now but I guess deep down it’s good to know that maybe we set the standard for the organization from a work ethic standpoint.” A great illustration of that is the fact that the 1992-1993 Ottawa Senators were shut out just two times out of the 84 games they played. This is a record that still stands today (fewest games shutout over the course of a season) although this year’s club came very close to matching it until their lost last month which was their third time this season.
Jody Hull who is currently an Assistant Coach with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL described the makeup of the 1992-1993 squad that was put together mainly from the expansion draft: “We really were a bunch of misfits, players other teams chose to cast off and were all put into positions we had always dreamed about but weren’t able to be in up to that point in our careers. The experience as tough as it was for us was rewarding and I know I have my coaching career because of it.”
In contrast to his teammates, Gord Dineen an Assistant Coach with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL didn’t start the season in Ottawa but with the San Diego Gulls of the IHL. While his path to the 1992-1993 Senators was different from his teammates, his experience and the lesson learned was the same. “When I got to Ottawa the mindset was already established; scratch and claw for every point we could get. The team was made up of a group of blue-collar guys and some very skilled players who hadn’t taken that next step.” Most of these players would have been third of fourth line players on other teams yet they were playing 20 plus minutes with Ottawa. “I think we all carried the experience of dealing with the incredible adversity of that season with us throughout the rest of our careers on into coaching. You know, sometimes you learn so much more through adversity than you do through success.”
Making the decision to transition from player to coach came easier for one player, Mark Lamb who is the head coach of the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. “I actually started thinking about coaching back in midget hockey. There were times when I thought about how I might do things differently in certain situations and I knew that my playing career wouldn’t last forever. I was proud to come to Ottawa, coming from Edmonton where I had won a Stanley Cup and was part of a winning atmosphere. I thought there was allot I could add to the team from a leadership standpoint.” This was evident with Mark being named Assistant Captain during both of his seasons with the Senators and there was a brief time when he served as team Captain during that first season.
So these misfits are inspiration for both the current and young Senators team as they move towards their first re-birth into the NHL playoffs as well as for any hockey team throughout professional hockey who may be in need of a coach that has the ability to cultivate a superior work ethic no matter what his team’s record is. All they need to do is look down the 1992-1993 Ottawa Senators roster in order to find one, at the same time the rest of the hockey world will continue to benefit from the motivation provided by those very same misfits. GO SENS SO!
List of 1992-1993 Ottawa Senators players who have become coaches (current):
- Daniel Berthiaume – Head Coach Virginia Military Institute
- Neil Brady – Assistant Coach Prince Albert Raiders, WHL
- Tony Cimellaro – Queen’s University Golden Gaels, CIS
- Gord Dineen – Assistant Coach with the Toronto Marlies, AHL
- Marc Fortier – General Manager Chicoutimi Saguenéens
- Jody Hull – Assistant Coach with the Peterborough Petes, OHL
- Mark Lamb – Head Coach with the Swift Current Broncos, WHL
- Lonnie Loach – Head Coach Missouri River Otters, UHL
- Chris Luongo – Head Coach University of Alabama Huntsville, NCAA
- Norm Maciver – Assistant Coach with the Boston Bruins
- Darren Madeley – Director of Hockey at the Lake Forrest Academy
- Mark Osiecki – Head Coach Ohio State University, CCHA
- Brad Shaw – Assistant Coach St. Louis Blues, NHL
- Darren Rumble – Assistant Coach Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL
- Peter Sidorkiewicz – Assistant Coach Erie Otters, OHL
- Martin St. Amour – Head Coach San Diego Gulls, ECHL
- Steve Weeks – Assistant Coach with the Atlanta Thrashers
- Scott White – General Manager Texas Stars, AHL