Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette looked calm and collected. He sure didn’t look like he had just carved out a piece of NHL history.
Sitting at the podium Monday night, moments after the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks, 6-3, in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Bridgestone Arena, Laviolette spoke in humble overtones. He didn’t trumpet his maturing legacy.
Instead, he focused on the Predators enjoying the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final for “at least a couple minutes.” Then back to business.
When asked by a reporter to expand on his mindset after becoming just the fourth coach in NHL history to lead three teams to the Cup Finals, he deflected the attention with a joke.
“It probably means that I got fired a lot,” Laviolette said without missing a beat, as reported by the latimes.com.
Laviolette joined Scotty Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan in the elite coaching fraternity. What separates Laviolette from the legendary trio, however, is the organizations that he guided to the Cup Finals. Sure, the Philadelphia Flyers (2010) is a traditional market and has a foundation to compete for Cups. But the Carolina Hurricanes, who claimed the 2006 title in a remarkable Cinderella-type story line, and now a team based in Tennessee?
Now that’s coaching.
The fourth American-born coach to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, Laviolette started his journey in 1997 as head coach of the Wheeling Nailers, directing the ECHL club to a 37-24-9 regular-season mark. An impressive playoff run boosted Laviolette’s coaching prospects. He was hired that off-season to coach the AHL’s Providence Bruins, a move which paid immediate dividends. In his first season, the club claimed the 1999 Calder Cup championship.
It didn’t take long for the NHL to come calling. After one more campaign with P-Bruins, the parent club in 2000 elevated the Franklin, Massachusetts, native to assistant coach. The apprenticeship lasted one season. After being passed over as Boston’s head coach, Laviolette took on the New York Islanders’ playoff-starved challenge. After missing the postseason for seven consecutive seasons, the rookie coach guided the Islanders to the playoffs during both seasons he served on Long Island.
‘Life of its Own’
His next stop in 2003 was Raleigh, North Carolina, a nontraditional market which unexpectedly became engulfed in a post-lockout Stanley Cup fever.
“Carolina was a terrific experience,” Laviolette reminisced.
The Predators’ gig isn’t turning out too bad, either. The community has taken a page from the Detroit Red Wings fans’ playbook but instead of throwing Octopus they have taken to throwing Catfish.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) May 23, 2017
“Nashville’s really taking on a life of its own,” Laviolette said. “The energy (the fans) bring into the building. We feel it on the bench. (It’s on a) level I’m not sure goes anywhere else in the National Hockey League. Our fan base and our team is a terrific relationship.”
At each level and in each market he has coached, Laviolette gets the most out of his players, igniting a firestorm of community enthusiasm. His career playoff coaching mark is 64-54.
In his usual press conference style, calm and collected, Laviolette on Monday seemed to credit everyone for his success but himself.
“I’m fortunate to be here working and fortunate (Predators General Manager) David Poile gave me a job,” he said. “I’ve got such a great group of guys in the locker room that I get to work with every day. And the coaches get to work with every day.”
Jeff Hawkins is a career sportswriter who has collected eight industry awards, including two Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) honors. Hawkins has served as a beat writer for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and UHL’s Adirondack IceHawks. A husband and father, Hawkins enjoys live music, hiking, New York-style pizza with Dr. Pepper, and writing with his golden Labrador retriever “mutt” cuddled around his feet.