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This article was published 14/1/2020 (259 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The rink was the same, most of the home team's training staff was still in place and there were familiar faces everywhere he looked.
Nolan Baumgartner, who called Winnipeg his hockey home for the better part of a decade during three separate stints with the AHL's Moose, was a visitor at Bell MTS Place Tuesday. He had the look of a man totally in his element.
Now in his third season as an assistant coach with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, responsible for the club's defencemen, the 43-year-old Calgary product has been employing many of the lessons he learned during a 16-year playing career spent mostly in the minors and five years as an assistant coach in the AHL.
One of his major tasks in the off-season and training camp was to help the Canucks' D corps absorb four new players: Highly touted Quinn Hughes was making the transition from the NCAA, Oscar Fantenberg was being promoted from the club's AHL affiliate and Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn were acquired via free agency.
"The big thing is, before the season starts, you watch video on them. You know how the systems are with the other teams because you've studied," explained Baumgartner prior to Tuesday night's game between the Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
"You get prepared in that way, how to approach them and how you want them to play for our team. It's not rocket science for a lot of these guys. You plug them in and they play. I think it's a daily thing when you watch video — there's some little things I can show them through my experiences. I mean, these guys know how to play hockey and that's what they do."
The changes are taking hold. The Canucks are among the NHL's most improved team in the NHL this season, boosting their goals-against totals from 20th overall last season into the top half of the league in 2019-20.
Not surprisingly, Vancouver has gone from missing the post-season to playoff contention. Entering Tuesday's action, the Canucks were third in the Pacific Division with a chance to vault into first place with a victory.
The transition for Myers, who left Winnipeg after 4 1/2 seasons, was uncomplicated.
"It wasn't anything too drastic," said Myers. "I think both sides, you're feeling each other out at the start, trying to get to know each other. It's been pretty seamless. The biggest adjustment has been adjusting to new systems and I feel like I had a lot of communication, especially with Nolan our D coach, showing video and trying to adjust to that as quick as possible.
"And it's been really easy. They've been great to me, communicated well with me and it seems to be fitting well."
Baumgartner's coaching template has been heavily influenced by his experience with Don Hay, who guided the Kamloops Blazers to WHL titles in 1994 and '95 with Baumgartner as his star defenceman.
"He was big influence on my whole hockey career and my life in general. I was just a young kid when I was there (in Kamloops) with him," said Baumgartner. "He was hard — it wasn't all butterflies and candies. There were some hard days and he challenged you to be better.
"He wanted you to be a good hockey player and good person to boot. I took a lot of those things through my hockey career. He taught me how to play hard, leadership, all those types of things."
Current Canucks head coach Travis Green has also had a pivotal role in his development. The two worked together for four years in Utica before moving up to the Canucks. Baumgartner said he matured as a leader, learning intricacies of managing a bench and how to communicate effectively with modern players.
"The athlete has changed a lot since (the '90s)," said Baumgartner. "That's another thing you have learn — how to handle those different personalities. Young guys are always asking 'Why, why, why?' They always want to know. Back in the day, it was, 'OK, the coach told me to do that.' "
Baumgartner recently signed a contract extension with the Canucks but he admits he aspires to be a head coach one day.
"I think so," he said. "I love what I'm doing right now. I mean, it's the best league in the world, it's where you shoot to be in. If I ever did that, I really enjoyed the American League."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 10:30 PM CST: Fixes typo
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