There were columns in yesterday’s local papers about Olie. (Largely uninteresting.) Last night there was a packed Verizon Center press box, many there who normally wouldn’t be, to chronicle the homecoming. But by 8:30 last night I’d had my fill of the storyline. For me it had become a cliche. I wanted something fresh to cover.
I followed the MSM pack to the postgame Tampa room — and it was a pack, 5 or 6 deep in a near full circle around the relieved-it-was-finally-over-looking former Caps’ netminder. I stood among them out of morbid curiosity. They asked questions you thought they would. He gave respectful answers as he always has. The formula was in full force. To the extent that you’ve consumed their coverage late last night and this morning, you know that, ah, it was a tough night for our old goalie, that he’d been thinking about the game a while, that he was relieved it was over.
I was far more interested in listening in on Barry Melrose (mullet missing), particularly on a night when his Tampa charges so obviously under-performed for a goalie making a special homecoming. For the past 10 or so years, I’d known only Barry Melrose the outsized ESPN personality. I’d known his endearing on-air Canuck kitsch, a humility blended with passion and accented with self-effacing wit that had managed to celebrate hockey even for years after ESPN ditched its coverage deal with the league. Melrose had been a big hit on ESPN for 10 years, and when early this past offseason he decided to ditch the comfy TV gig for the heavy lifting behind the Tampa bench, I thought his among this season’s most interesting storylines.
Melrose’s court of press last night consisted largely of Florida media and local bloggers. We had to wait nearly for 30 minutes for his arrival. He didn’t address us long, not even 5 minutes, but it was abundantly clear that had he not had those 30 minutes to partially cool off, much of what he would have told us wouldn’t have been fit for print even on most blogs.
Barry Melrose the cult of ESPN personality, I learned in 5 minutes last night, is very much a personality of the past. Today he is a fiercely competitive big-league bench boss, and whether he succeeds or fails in this latest gig, his analytical eye is keen.
He started by calling his team’s first-period performance “brutal.”
“I told the guys, ‘Why try when you get down 3-0, why try then? Why care [only] when you’ve given up three goals?'”
“I was very disappointed with the play in front of Olie, in Washington. [Rising anger pause at this point] We got a lot of guys that gotta do some soul-searching, cause we got a lot of players that aren’t playing very well right now.”
When one reporter suggested that the Caps had made things difficult for the visitors by coming out and playing inspired against their former goalie, the coach would have none of it.
“They had five shots in the first period [6, officially]. They weren’t the New York Islanders of ’84 by any stretch of the imagination. They had three scoring chances and they put them in. And that’s what the Caps do, they got some great talent. It wasn’t what they were doing, we were awful.”
“A terrible change gives up a goal, Green beat two of our guys up the ice on another goal . . . it wasn’t that Washington was great, we just weren’t ready to play.
“For the life of me I do not know why.”
Then a reporter asked a legitimate question about between-period adjustments Tampa made to make the game competitive after so sour a start. Melrose the nice guy, the studio yuckster, was nowhere to be found.
“We sang ‘Kumbaya’ around the fire after the second period,” he shot back with a death stare.
Did Tampa’s improved play in periods two and three make the start all the more frustrating?
“It just pisses you off more,” the coach returned.
“When you come in here and you’re just stick-checking and nobody’s hitting anybody and you say ‘Excuse me’ when you go to the net . . . “
A final broadside launched by the new head coach returned to the topic of Tampa’s 20 skaters letting down a goalie on his special night.
“If I’m those guys I can’t look Olie in the face. You know probably the biggest game this guy’s played in years, and they show up and do that for him. I think those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight.”