- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

DALLAS Larry Robinson was fired by the Los Angeles Kings at the end of the 1998-99 season. The talk was that Robinson was too nice to be a head coach. He was too kind and too easy on his players.

That, of course, is not the case and as a result the New Jersey Devils are Stanley Cup champions.

The Devils took home the Cup despite a late season swoon that saw them go 5-10-2 over a 17-game span and fall from the Eastern Conference lead with eight games left in the season. Consequently, coach Robbie Ftorek, an unyielding disciplinarian, was fired and his chief assistant, Robinson, was promoted to the post of interim coach.

It was the last thing Robinson wanted, but it was the best thing that happened to the Devils. Robinson, who had had a hand in seven Stanley Cup wins (six as a player with the Canadiens and once as an assistant with the 1994-95 Devils), inherited a club in disarray. And yet because of him it came together and became a team with all facets working to avert a looming playoff disaster.

"What he brought us was discipline," said Conn Smythe Trophy winner Scott Stevens, the team captain who was one of the principle reasons Robinson took over. "He brought discipline to all the parts of the game where it was missing. He taught us how to play defense again, like our lives depended on it. He taught the forwards to come back and help [the defensemen] and that was huge. Once everybody got into sync, we started to win again.

"The most important things he taught us have to do with life. He taught us that winning was very important and that you had to pay a very steep price, but it didn't mean very much if you didn't have fun at the same time. He told us that we are playing a game, after all. He didn't yell and he listened to us. And the confidence factor, I can't begin to tell you what he did for our confidence. Just knowing he's behind us on the bench calms us down."

Too kind?

The first thing Robinson did when he took over was lengthen practice. He made the drills tougher and more pointed; he had to. There were only eight games left before the playoffs started and he wanted to mold a team. The Devils went 4-4-0, but Robinson kept telling his team to look at the big picture and not the individual results.

What Robinson accomplished in a short period of time was sensational, and the results prove it.

The discipline displayed by his defensemen they held their positions throughout the playoffs was a major contributing factor in the club's championship. With defenders on the blue line and not crowding around the net, opposition chances were reduced dramatically. Defensemen were prepared to blunt forays into the zone and were able to hold on long enough until help arrived.

There is a key statistic that illustrates how the Devils dominated the Dallas Stars. Dallas had an enormous edge in faceoffs, meaning control of the puck where the draw takes place. But New Jersey had a large territorial advantage, meaning despite gaining possession of the puck the Stars were unable to maintain possession in the Devils' end. Dallas would get it, the Devils would take it right back.

"Larry made it fun again," said defenseman Ken Daneyko, who has played his entire 17-year career with the Devils. "Guys weren't having fun. We were a pretty miserable team for a while there. That's pretty unbelievable to say when you're a first-place club but for some reason we were [miserable]. We weren't pulling together and maybe [we] had a bad attitude. Larry showed us there was a method to his madness. He told us, 'Don't worry about first place. Don't worry about anything else. We need to start feeling better about ourselves.' That happened and look at us now."

He threw a wild-eyed fit on May 20 after his team fell behind 3-1 to Philadelphia; they came back. He was up 3-1 on Dallas, they let the Stars back in then won it all with the 2-1 overtime win Saturday night.

Larry Robinson's name will go on the Stanley Cup now for the eighth and most deserving time. Without him, there is no celebration in New Jersey.

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