Preseason is not simply for the players. Not in the case of the Nashville Predators — this season, at least.
In the wake of the first staff change in six years, coach Barry Trotz, associate coach Peter Horacehek and assistant Lane Lambert, the newcomer to the group, needed a couple games to sort out their own bench ballet.
“I think we’re looking for some chemistry,” Lambert said. “I think I bumped into Barry 10 times in the first [preseason] game. There’s some things I’m trying to learn and pick up — different sort of routines, if that’s what you want to call it — that are going to take some getting used to.”
Continuity has been a hallmark of the staff since the earliest days of the franchise, which opens the 2011-12 season Friday at Columbus.
Paul Gardner also was on the staff for the opening season and remained there through 2002-03 before Horacheck replaced him.
Brent Peterson was with Trotz on the bench from the first game in franchise history until midway through last season when health issues made it impossible for him to perform all of his duties in a safe manner.
He was shifted into the role of hockey operations advisor this season and will communicate with coaches during games from an upstairs vantage point.
“[He] is going to be upstairs on the headset, which is really good,” Trotz said. “You’ve got all that knowledge upstairs and on the bench. It’s a really good situation.”
Horachek and Lambert both worked as head coach of Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, before they took up their places behind the Nashville bench.
As assistants, theirs no longer is the primary voice, which can require some adjustment.
“One thing I allow is the coaches to have say and have personality and have all those things,” Trotz said. “I do that on the ice and I do that with everything we do. As long as when a decision is made we’re all on the same page. Other than that, I want the passion, I want people to be very involved. I want all of that.”
Of course, getting one’s input also can result in getting in the way in the small space behind the players.
“We were laughing because Lane and Peter are so passionate — they’re both head coaches, they really are,” Trotz said. “I’m in the middle so there’s a couple times [during the preseason] I laughed because I turned and went over to talk to Peter. I turned [back] and Lane was right there.”
Then, of course, there was the time Lambert felt completely separated from the other two.
In the first of this season’s preseason contests at Bridgestone Arena, Lambert — who directs the forward — found it difficult during the second to circumnavigate the seat occupied by the backup goalie and to get anywhere near Trotz.
“He says he’s liked a caged animal over there,” Trotz said.
More often than not, though, Lambert, whose entire coaching career has been spent in the lower levels of the sport, sees an expanse of opportunities now that he is coaching in the NHL.
“There is a level of excitement, there’s no question about it,” Lambert said. “It’s terrific to be able to come to the rink every day and work with players that are world-class caliber. That’s exciting in itself. Everything here is top level, including all the coaching and the coaches you’re coaching against. So there’s certainly a lot of challenges that make it interesting and make it fun.”
“It’s a great opportunity and it’s a great experience for me. We can all learn and grow. Certainly I feel like everyone has a voice here and that’s the nice thing about working with this staff.”
Now, it’s a question of whether eight games was enough for each to figure out his place behind the bench.