The names rolled off Rick Tocchet’s tongue like a CFL elite roll call.
“Terry Metcalf, Condredge Holloway, Terry Greer. Those are the guys I used to watch, and I was a close friend of Warren Hudson,” the Vancouver Canucks head coach said of growing up in Toronto and watching the Argonauts excel during the 1980s.
“They played for years and that’s why there was so much affection for them. It wasn’t one and done. I had an affection for the CFL.
“I really want to go to a B.C. Lions game, but I haven’t had a chance, just like a lot of our guys.”
With the Lions preparing to face the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division semifinal Saturday at B.C. Place, the team across the street at Rogers Arena was giving stick taps for surviving the gridiron grind and keeping Grey Cup hopes alive.
“They’re playing a team they should beat, that’s where the pressure is,” added Tocchet. “But they made the playoffs.”
Tocchet played one year of high school football in the Toronto area, but would soon face a decision that led to an 18-year NHL career as a rugged and productive winger and now as a bench boss.
“It was Grade 9,” he recalled. “I loved football. But the hockey coach said, ‘You’ve got to pick one or the other.’ Thank God I picked hockey. I don’t know if I would have been much of a football player.”
Canucks defenceman Noah Juulsen was born in Surrey and relocated to Abbotsford at a young age. He knows the connection the Lions have developed with their established faithful, and the desire to attract a younger generation. That’s impressive. So is the grind.
“I went to a couple of games, and a couple of us went to one during training camp this year and it was pretty exciting,” Juulsen said of the Lions topping the Saskatchewan Roughriders 33-26 on Sept. 29. “I was in the AHL most of last year, and the year before, and it’s kind of similar to what they’re doing in the CFL.
“They’re grinding. Some guys are making decent money and some aren’t. But they’re all working toward one goal, and that’s a championship.”
Juulsen didn’t play football, but did play rugby and lacrosse. He was reminded of the physical toll the CFL takes during that Lions triumph over the Roughriders.
“It was my first time seeing a CFL game in a long time and it’s unique in its own way,” he said. “I remember as a kid it was pretty packed and we got our hot dogs and drinks. They kind of lost (the team’s following) a little and are starting to get it back. It’s great for the city and the Surrey community and everyone around it.”
Canucks winger Dakota Joshua was recently talking about his hometown and improved Detroit Lions, which could have been applicable to the B.C. Lions.
“I think they’re just all believing in the system,” stated the Dearborn, Mich. native. “The city is behind them and I just think it’s been a long time coming. Good coach. Good motivator. Does a good job at letting you know what he want. A pretty vocal guy.”
Joshua wants to get to a CFL game because the three-down sport, size of field, and roster size are intriguing.
“For sure,” he said. “I haven’t checked it out live yet.”
The admiration that Joshua has for pro football players is the amount of time they must devote to their chosen craft. And if they aren’t big-money guys, the love of the sport has to trump everything. At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, the rugged Joshua looks like he would have been a good tight end, but he didn’t gravitate toward the sport.
“You’re not getting enough time with the practice-to-playing ratio,” he said. “That was always my view. And to mix it in with hockey practice would be a lot. I played hockey and basketball (power forward) until Grade 10 and probably thought I was better than I actually was at the time.
“I think I chose the right sport.”
What Tocchet has developed as a coach is a thirst for knowledge. Preparation, practices, meetings and managing a roster varies from sport to sport. And that’s why Tocchet has praise for CFL coaches who have to coax the best out of their 45-man rosters.
“I’d like to sit down with the Lions coach (Rick Campbell) and the Whitecaps coach (Vanni Sartini),” said Tocchet. “I love talking to coaches in different sports and getting different ideas. I’m a big junkie when it comes to that.”
When Tocchet was a coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was invited to an NFL training camp by Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. It made a lasting impression.
“He gave me carte blanche,” said Tocchet. “I sat in on all the meetings, and I walked around camp and watched. It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of meetings. And it was the way they practised. I’d like to eventually blow the whistle and do a drill.
“Can we do that after 20 minutes? Stop and go 6-on-5 and put a minute on a clock? Bill Belichick (New England coach) does that with the Patriots. It puts pressure on your team.”
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