TAMPA, Fla. -- Hours before his big night, Adam Oates wasn't too nervous to crack a joke.
"I'm excited. That's why I was stuttering right there, yeah. I am very excited," Oates said Saturday afternoon. "I'm very excited to coach these guys. I think they're a great team and I'm excited to being a coach and just really looking forward to getting it going."
Oates made his NHL head coaching debut for the Washington Capitals at the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that gave him his start as an assistant in 2009-10. The Caps lost 6-3.
Friend and then-Lightning coach Rick Tocchet brought Oates to training camp as an adviser.
"I talked to my wife about getting back into hockey and obviously working for Rick. We talked that summer and I came here, kind of optimistic on how I was going to feel," Oates said. "Really from Day One it was just something that I went, 'Oh yeah, this is what I've been missing in my life.' It's been the next challenge in my life to try and pass on your knowledge and learn how coach and become a coach."
After two years as an assistant with the New Jersey Devils, Oates got the promotion to coach as general manager George McPhee complimented his "upside."
Oates' former players believe in his ability to be a head man.
"I think he was able to understand everything that comes with being a head coach. Being an assistant coach, I think you learn a lot along the way and I think he's done that," Lightning winger Marty St. Louis said. "Obviously he made the jump, and I truly believe that he's ready for that. I think he's going to do a good job."
In a lockout-shortened 48-game season, Oates' impact on the Caps is one of many unknowns.
"I mean obviously it's tough to tell until you get throw into the fire. But with the amount of knowledge that he has for the game, guys can relate him because he's played the game," Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "I obviously wish him the best of luck, not against us, but against other teams. I think he'll do well. He has a very talented, skilled team in Washington and that's the type of player that he was, so he'll probably be able to relate to all those guys."
Alex Ovechkin already feels "comfortable" with Oates, and Saturday night was his first game of any kind with the Hall of Fame Center behind the bench.
Where Stamkos said Oates excels is in the little things. He loves to tell guys what stick curve they should be using; Stamkos was the only player Oates has ever coached whom he didn't ask to change.
But players' trust in Oates lets him do that.
"He's a coach [who] as an offensive player you can relate to on so many different levels. The caliber of player that he was, he's able to relate to you in every situation on the ice," Stamkos said. "Whether you're going through a great stretch or a tough stretch, he knew exactly what you were feeling and what you needed to do to stay focused on that task."
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