One of my biggest issues with most sports interviews is that, for the most part, they sound exactly the same. They all have the same quotes, the same themes, and both athletes and coaches seem to take pleasure in revealing as little as possible to the media and the fans that want to know more. Don't say anything that might reveal insider secrets or get taken the wrong way, which basically means don't say anything at all.
That's why it was so refreshing to read yesterday's Sabres article by ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. The article is absolutely worth a read, and deals with everything from Harborcenter and the resurgence of Buffalo to the differing viewpoints around the league regarding the Sabres tanking. But it also veers into the topic of leadership, where Josh Gorges and Brian Gionta opened up on how they view their role as leaders in the Sabres locker room, and how they keep themselves and others motivated while playing for the worst team in hockey.
Here are some choice quotes from the article, which again, you should go read right now:
The focus for both leaders is to ensure that the youngsters on this Sabres squad don't think losing is acceptable.
"For sure, that's something you don't want to set in, that it's OK," Gionta said. "You don't want guys coming in after a loss and feeling like we made strides. This game is all about winning. Part of the turnaround is changing that culture, the feel in the room, what's acceptable and what's not."
Hinting at what's transpired in Edmonton over the past eight years, Gorges said it's imperative to establish what's acceptable now.
"You can get all the best young players in the world, all the draft picks, but if you breed them into a negative environment, a losing environment, they don't know any different," Gorges said. "And it becomes acceptable."
I love the point about a negative environment affecting prospect development, and Gorges calling out the Oilers for failing to set a high enough standard. Tim Murray seems to understand that by the fact that he brought in so much veteran leadership this offseason.
So, what exactly can Gorges do to send that message to younger teammates?
"That's the hard part. Because you have to find the right approach to address those issues," he said. "Sometimes it needs to be a little bit of a snap show, you need to lose it a little bit. I've lost it a couple of times. I don't take losing easy. But you can't do that all the time because then guys will tune you out and then you end up on the outside. There's a time and a place for it. You try to find what works best."
This is exactly why Murray brought both these former Habs into the fold.
As some of you know, during the day I'm a teacher in the Buffalo area, and this is absolutely something that educators think about - not only when to use a (metaphorical) heavy hand to motivate, but how to set a baseline of expectations so that students understand what's acceptable and what isn't. Reading these quotes is like seeing my day-to-day play out in the Sabres locker room, with Gorges and Gionta as the teachers, and Girgensons, Ristolainen, and Zadorov as the students. Grigorenko is the super-smart foreign exchange student who had trouble adjusting at first, Foligno is the bad boy heartthrob who's about to flunk out, and Stafford is the kid who graduated two years ago but keeps hanging around campus and is starting to creep people out.
After years of "stick to the system" and "play a full sixty minutes" interviews, it's nice to see some honesty about a leader's role in the locker room, which has to be tough on a team like this. Let us know what you think of Gorges and Gionta's comments down below.