RALEIGH, N.C. – When Bill Peters was introduced as the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes last week, no one noticed the hard hat, tool belt and lunch pail that he brought along with him.
No, the dark suit and tie was the substitute for what he should have worn – a red, white, and black hard hat and a hammer hanging from his waist to go along with the gritty, hard-working attitude that only a blue-collar construction foreman possesses.
His comments barely five minutes into his press conference on how he would make the players accountable spoke volumes of the type of work he and the Hurricanes would get into very soon – hard and grueling.
If it wasn’t good work, then the ultimate consequence would show in ice time, or lack of it.
“I have the ultimate hammer as a coach,” Peters said.
“The hammer is the ice time, right? They all want ice time, they all feel they deserve more ice, they all wanna’ play in the situations that matches their skill set. And I’m all for that, as long as you’re givin’ me the things that I need in the work ethic to play away from the puck, the attention to detail. That’s the perfect marriage when it all comes together. When it doesn’t all come together, I gotta’ swing the hammer.”
It was a clear cut and straight-forward choice of words.
Every player on the Hurricanes roster, a group that has underachieved in not making the playoffs for the past five seasons, will deal with a man who is trying to prove that he can lead them to the postseason and beyond.
He has no favorites, so on the first day of training camp and beyond, there should be little chance that any one of them will give anything less than 100 percent effort.
That is, if they want to play.
Otherwise fans won’t see much of them.
At the same time Peters will have one hand on his hip to draw upon his hammer, the coach, who presented executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis and his management team a power point presentation as well as detailed notes on how he would lead the team, understands that he and his staff must also teach and instruct.
“That’s my ultimate weapon,” Peters continued.
“It’s the ice time. But I wanna’ make players comfortable. I want them to succeed. I’m gonna’ put them in positions to succeed and if they follow the template and the structure we’re gonna’ play with, they will be successful. We’ve got lots of good quality players here. We just gotta’ give ‘em a little bit of guidance and let ‘em know where they can negotiate, what’s negotiable, what’s not negotiable. The work ethic part of it is not negotiable. You look at around the league at any team that’s any good; they’re some of the hardest working teams in the league. That’s where it starts.”
Growing up in a small Alberta farming town, Three Hills, Peters described it as a really good hockey community that spawned former NHLer’s like brothers Mike and Randy Moller among others.
He also spent part of his childhood in a town just north of Three Hills, in Killam, Alberta where he continued to play his minor hockey under head coaches that influenced his desire to get to another level.
“In a small town you have the opportunity to be on the ice every day and you’re on the ice with not only your own team, but the team that’s the next age group up,” Peters said.
“People are helpin’ you along if you show a little bit of enthusiasm towards the game and that’s what happened.”
As he advanced in his playing career, he didn’t play junior hockey, but instead skated in the Canadian college system.
While attending Red Deer College of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, Peters played under current Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose mentorship further strengthened his passion to stay in the game after playing by stepping behind the bench.
“All of a sudden you’re exposed to good coaching and teams that are well prepared and that’s where my passion for the game grew.”
Peters finally realized in his early 20’s that his career in hockey wasn’t going to continue as a player, but as a coach, and so he took his first position as an assistant with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League (WHL).
From there he followed the coaching road through junior hockey and into the pros which has now put him in Raleigh as the head coach of the Hurricanes.
Will he be the right person to get this team into the postseason and excite a loyal fan base that has reached its limit?
Will a guy with small town Canadian roots, who never played in the AHL or NHL, but has cut his teeth in the game gaining success and opportunity behind the bench be the one to get through to this team and finally push them over the playoff cut line?
He thinks so, if the players are properly informed of what’s expected of them and if the work they produce is up to his standards.
Otherwise, the hammer will be swung until the right combination of guys do it.
“They have to know what you want from them,” Peters said.
“So if you haven’t laid it out, what’s expected of them, then they’re unsure. So you take away all that uncertainty by explaining how we’re gonna’ play as a team, how they’re skill set fits into what we’re tryin’ to do, and then away you go.”
As far as what the fans should expect – they should see an honest effort.
“You know what people wanna’ see?” Peters asked.
“They wanna’ see people workin’ hard. That’s what they wanna’ see. Everybody wants an honest effort that they can hang their hat on. You’re not gonna’ win 82 times in this league, but you have an opportunity to show up all 82 times, right? And at home, you’ve got an advantage with matchups a little bit, with line changes and some situations that favor the home team and you have to take advantage of those. Travel is usually an issue quite a bit in this league. There’s some traveling schedule issues for teams, so when you have a team that’s maybe vulnerable, you have to pounce and take advantage. All that comes into play, but it starts with being ready for yourself. Worry about your own team, so the individual player worries about himself, all 20 guys that are dressed that night, and collectively we’ve got everybody ready to go. Make sure we have a good plan – everybody on the same page to execute that plan – and then let’s go out and play. And we’ll like our results at the end of the day more often than not.”