Conference finals coaches -- Dave Tippett
HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Like his fellow conference finals colleagues, Dave Tippett apprenticed at the minor-pro level before getting a shot at the bigs. He coached the Houston Aeros of the old IHL, was assistant coach in Los Angeles under Andy Murray and then took over when Ken Hitchcock flamed out in Dallas after the 2001-02 season. As a player, Tippett was a hard-nosed winger who played in 721 NHL games and was captain of the 1984 Canadian Olympic team. Tippett also won a silver medal with Canada in Albertville in 1992. Stars assistant coach Mark Lamb, who also played with and for Tippett, said he is patient, thoughtful and determined as a coach -- just like he was as a player. "He's a very easy guy to play for," Lamb said.
BIGGEST HURDLE: When word came down early in the season that there were changes afoot in Dallas, you can bet many people thought it was the likable Tippett who was going to be sacrificed to the hockey gods by owner Tom Hicks. Instead, Hicks dispatched GM Doug Armstrong and installed assistant GM Les Jackson and former star player Brett Hull as co-interim GMs, leaving the coaching staff intact. The decision turned out to be a masterstroke, not necessarily because Armstrong had done a bad job, but because Tippett has done such a fine job in taking an underachieving Dallas squad and turning it into a legitimate Cup hopeful. Was he worried?
"No, you know, when you're a coach in any professional sport, professional hockey, you get very thick-skinned to that kind of stuff," Tippett said. "What it is, I think you have to be secure in what you're doing every day, how your team is prepared, how they're responding. From my end, I never worry about the pink slip."
WHAT HE'S ACCOMPLISHED: When a team doesn't win in the playoffs after successful regular seasons, it takes a tremendous amount of patience from everyone involved to believe you are on the right track and don't need to blow things up. Tippett is that kind of man, and his belief in what was being achieved in Dallas permeated the organization. If that belief hadn't extended both to upper management and through the lineup, Tippett would be coaching another NHL team right now.
But, this season, he put Mike Ribeiro in a position in which the talented center finally reached his potential. With Brad Richards joining the squad at the trade deadline, Tippett has been able to ice three deep lines that have been tough to defend. Without the services of top defensemen Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher and Mattias Norstrom at various times during the season, Tippett has been able to integrate youngsters Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossman into the fold without missing a beat (the Stars finished sixth in goals-against per game during the regular season and are second in the playoffs, allowing just two goals per game on average).
In terms of personality, Tippett represents a marked departure from Hitchcock, who was a button-pusher. "He doesn't belittle people. He doesn't go after the throat," Lamb said of Tippett's approach. "He's never changed how he does things from day one."
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: If Tippett looks unusually calm, even in the greatest turmoil behind the bench, that's because he is. That said, some players have noticed a little more pep from the coach this spring.
"I can say he's been a little more energetic right before the games, a little more jittery -- not jittery, but we see some emotion, coming into the locker room, giving a last-minute pump-up speech," Stars goalie Marty Turco said. "His excitement transcends down through the rest of our group and it's all been great for us so far."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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