For the first time since the NHL hit pause on the 2019-20 back on March 12th, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan spoke to the media on Tuesday and covered a wide range of topics during the nearly 30 minute video conference.
Since suspending the season nearly three weeks ago, several Penguins players have recorded short video messages with fans and captain Sidney Crosby participated in a special Metropolitan division conference call alongside Claude Giroux, Jordan Staal, and Marc Staal.
While players were offering words of encouragement to fans, it wasn’t until Tuesday that media and fans alike heard from Mike Sullivan to get his thoughts on the current situation and how he is personally handling everything going on at the moment.
On a special conference call with local media members, Sullivan spoke on various topics with much of the conversation focused on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and his hockey team which is currently on hiatus.
Before discussing the Penguins or the game of hockey, Sullivan about the healthcare professionals who are on the frontlines of this pandemic in the United States and applauded their continued work in the face of the growing crisis.
“I’d like to take this time just to thank the medical teams out there, the doctors, the nurses, the first responders, law enforcement, fire departments, all the people that are on the frontlines to help fight this battle,” was how Sullivan opened the call.
Following his opening statement thanking healthcare personnel for all they are doing to combat this pandemic, the floor was opened for questions and Sullivan was more than happy to discuss hockey for what seems like the first time in ages.
Starting with a question about coaching, Sullivan discussed the work he is putting in to prepare for when play resumes and what he is doing on his own time to help himself become a better coach.
“There is no timeline at this point,” said Sullivan in regards to the uncertainty of when hockey may return. “It’s hard because of the lack of clarity to do any sort of preparation for a return to play scenario, but having said that, I have been in constant communication with Jim Rutherford, my coaching staff, and out players so we are trying to control what we can control.”
It can’t be easy for these guys to sit at home knowing full well they should be preparing for the playoffs which were scheduled to start in exactly one week from today. The only thing they can control at this moment is there own preparation which can be difficult given how much uncertainty there still is at this moment. Based on what Sullivan said, it sounds like they are managing everything to the best of their ability and once a solid timeline emerges they will change gears.
Given the current status of the world, it makes sense that Sullivan and his staff lean into more virtual communication during this time. Not just with one another on the coaching staff but with players as well. From coaches meetings online to keeping tabs on players currently in quarantine, Sullivan is taking advantage of technology to keep in touch.
Per the Penguins website:
“Right now, the coaching staff has video meetings over WebEx a couple of times a week, just trying to think through all of the possible future scenarios and how to prepare for them. Moving forward, the coaching staff might also potentially use that technology with the players, who they are in constant communication with.”
“I’ve talked to players personally and I know that our strength and conditioning guys are in almost daily contact with our players,” Sullivan said. “They all have customized fitness programs based on where they’re at and what resources they have at their disposal at this point to make sure that these guys stay fit as best they can for a potential return-to-play scenario. We’re looking at every means possible and trying to be proactive in how we can try to stay engaged and make sure we continue to communicate with everyone involved.”
On the topic of speaking with players, Sullivan divulged that he has been in regular contact with captain Sidney Crosby throughout the break in play, and is grateful for all the work Crosby is putting in not just on himself but making sure his teammates are staying prepared for when the game returns.
“He sets the standard for us with his work ethic and his example and just staying ready, and it’s no different in this circumstance as well,” Sullivan said. “I know how hard he’s working right now to keep himself ready as best as he can and he certainly is talking to his teammates on a consistent basis to make sure our team is ready. He’s the standard bearer for our group.”
As for Sullivan’s idea for how things should look when the time comes to restart the season, he’s going to let that decision up to the NHL who he believes will do what they believe is best for the game when they get the green light to resume play.
Again, from the Penguins:
“They will do their best to try to find that balance of trying to finish the season as best they can and award the Stanley Cup, and at the same time be as fair and equitable as they possibly can.”
“But having said that, what I will say is that every team is in the same circumstance,” he said. “We’re all going to have the same time frame to try and prepare our teams to compete given the window of time that the league is going to allow for some sort of a mini training camp.”
As for what Sullivan is doing when he’s not focused on hockey, he pulled back the curtain and gave us a small glimpse into his life behind closed doors. He’s spending some quality time quarantined with his wife and kids who are trying to teach him how to play pickleball on a makeshift court in their driveway.
Before wrapping up the call, Sullivan did as so many others have done to this point and delivered a message of encouragement we all can lean on as we continue to battle through this difficult time together.
“What has jumped out at me is how impressive the human spirit and the human initiative is. When I look around the country and see how people band together to overcome challenges and work together to try to help one another through this crisis, for me it is inspiring,” said Sullivan about the human response to coronavirus.
“I think it’s our responsibility as people within our own respective communities to make sure that we do our part in trying to help the country overcome this challenge and I don’t think any of us should take it lightly.”
The last question Sullivan answered in relation to his team was more lighthearted in nature. It was simple yet something we all may be wondering, who will in net the next time the Penguins take the ice?
His answer was as simple as the question, “You guys will be informed, as you always are, on a game day.”
Listening to the audio of the conference call on my computer while compiling this piece, it dawned on me how nice it was to hear Sullivan’s booming voice once again. Knowing he and all the players are doing about the same exact thing all of us fans are doing right now is reassuring and let’s you know no one is alone in this fight.
As nice as it was to hear the head coach talk again, I think we will all enjoy it a little more when we see him back behind the bench sometime in the hopefully not too distant future.