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Chief Among Men

(Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press)

With the firing of Coach Mike Yeo on 11/19/2018, General Manager Doug Armstrong placed the reins of the fledgling 2018-2019 Blues season in the hands of former Assistant (and now Coach) Craig Berube.

For some, the change could not come soon enough. Blues Twitter gnashed their teeth and screamed for a change since the beginning of the season. Chants of “Yeo must go!” and “Fire Yeo!” circulated on, and on, and on, long into the night, until the midnight hour, when the deed was done.

My own personal opinions aside on this matter, what we of Blues Nation face now are the facts. Yeo is out. Berube is in. The team must play better, period. The way the season has gone so far has contributed to a dismissal and an uprising.

But… what do we know of the man known as “Chief”, who now will raise the banner of “company Commander” in our little militia? What do we know of Berube? And why is the former assistant coach, who has been here a solid year already, such a mystery?

EARLY YEARS

Berube, born 12/17/1965 in Calahoo, Alberta, was signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers and entered the NHL in the 1986-1987 season. He played 7 games, accumulated 57 penalty minutes, and recorded 4 shots. He played 5 seasons for Philadelphia until he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for the 1991 season.

From there, he went to Calgary, Washington, Philadelphia (again), Washington (again), New York Islanders, and Calgary (again), before he left the NHL at the end of the 2003 season at age 37.

For all 17 years of his NHL career, he played 1054 games, recorded 61 goals, 98 assists, for 159 points. He finished with a -81 and recorded 3149 penalty minutes.

He very famously punched out Jeremy Roenick during one of JR’s early seasons. He obtained the moniker “Chief” from his Native heritage with the Cree Nation and his no-nonsense approach to both playing and coaching.

After a brief season in the AHL with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Berube retired and began his coaching career as an assistant coach for the same AHL team he left, the Phantoms. He served as an assistant for 2 years, 1 year as head coach until he was promoted to assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2006-2007 season.

He served again as the head coach of the Phantoms the following year until he was instilled as a permanent member of the coaching staff of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2008 until 2015. he was head coach from 2013-2015, and fired from the Flyers for failing to make the playoffs.

During this period with the Flyers, he had his first contact with Brayden Schenn, who joined the squad in 2011. When he took a year break and began a 1-year stint with the Chicago Wolves, he coached Vince Dunn, Sammy Blais, Ivan Barbashev, Jordan Schmaltz, Jordan Kyrou, and Ville Husso. He also had contact with Zach Sanford, but only for a brief period, when Sanford was traded from the Washington Capitals.

During his time with the Wolves, Berube posted a 44-19 record with the squad, and the team finished with 101 points. They made it as far as the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated. After his season with the Wolves, he was promoted to the Blues and has been with us ever since.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Using my deductive reasoning skills from what I know of him and through watching the press conference on 11/20/2018, Berube, as he’s stated, is “tough but fair”. However, bearing the name “Chief” combined with his no-nonsense approach, he strikes me as the kind of leader who is immensely proud of his team: he breeds a culture where men are inspired to play for him because of the example he sets for himself, and for them. As he is proud of his heritage, he wants them to be proud of their team and city heritage as well.

He does not expect perfection, but continual progress, and will pull it out of his player’s tooth and nail because he knows what they are capable of, and will not allow anyone to slack off. His words are clear-cut, meaning he doesn’t mince words and he won’t give excuses. There are no miscommunications or ambiguity. He is a man of his word, and it is rarely misunderstood.

However, as a former enforcer, I know that he deeply cares about those he played with, and those he protected. That care translates to his coaching as well. He will defend his players (even when internally, those same players may earn a stern talking to), and though he expects much out of them, he is more than compassionate and understanding with them when it is warranted.

He primarily played or coached in a Canadian or a Metropolitan market, which tells me he knows all about pressure from the media and fan bases’ expectations. He knows how to carry that load and coach under immense public scrutiny.

He continually mentioned “practice” in the press conference, and that tells me that he harps on fundamentals. In order to build your game, you go back to the beginning and prove you have the standards down before you continue on with the more advanced legwork.

He believes every person could be elite if you pushed them out of their comfort zone to do it, but you don’t skimp on the building blocks, regardless of whether you’re elite or not.

He coached many players on the roster in the AHL, and some in the NHL, before coming here, and all of the current roster either knew of him, worked with him before, or quickly adapted to his way of thinking, especially the forwards when they began serving under him with the Blues.

This builds trust, comradery, and respect. They know who he is. He knows who they are. He knows what he can do with them.

CONCLUSION

Berube might be exactly what the Blues need. Firing Yeo was a wakeup call, a shot across the bow, and knowing who is the new head of operations behind the bench is as crucial as knowing the numbers on the back of our favorite players.

Knowing what he stands for, what he will do, can point us in the direction of where this team is headed, and like it or not… he’s calling the shots. Whether he continues to stay, or a new coach is installed, faith in Berube is not without merit.

Here’s to you, Berube. May you have wisdom, patience, and a whole lot of courage with this team. You, and we will need it. And let’s hope for a season turn-around.

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