Rick Tocchet Arrives to All-Star with Pride, Appreciation, Perspective

Rick Tocchet, All-Star coach.

Landing in St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, the Coyotes' third-year leader behind the bench is no stranger to the league's annual mid-season celebration that showcases the best the NHL has to offer.

It is, however, uncharted territory for Tocchet, who's come to know All-Star Games by playing in them, not by coaching them.

"It's great," he said, fielding questions from reporters. "Obviously I was a late add-in, and I'm a big fan of Gerard Gallant, I talked to him and I wanted to get his blessing because I feel kind of bad about it. I'm here to represent the Coyotes, and with Kuemper getting hurt, I think somebody should be here to represent the team, so it's nice in that sense."

Tocchet will oversee the Pacific Division's 11-player roster for Saturday night's three-on-three showcase, a group consisting of nine skaters and two goaltenders.

Darcy Kuemper, originally selected to be a part of the Pacific squad, will not be joining his coach.

"I wish he was here because he deserves it to be recognized," Tocchet said of Kuemper. "What he's done for our organization, especially the last year, over the last calendar year I think he's been the best goalie in the league, so I think he should be here."

There is a quiet anticipation that Kuemper is healthy enough to return to game action shortly after the break.

"Selfishly, I'm glad he's back home rehabbing getting ready for us because we're going to need him. He's definitely our All-Star, he's our guy."

Tocchet plans to keep things simple during the weekend, enjoying the most important part of it all: the togetherness, something he experienced as a four-time All-Star as a player in 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1993.

"I'm just excited to see the talent in the three-on-three, I just want to stay out of everybody's way, let's put it that way," he said with a chuckle.

When asked if he has anything in particular up his sleeve, Tocchet didn't give away too much, noting that he'd make an effort to ask guys who they'd like to play with, adding that the line combinations are ultimately "up to them."

"I love talking to certain players and picking their brain a little bit, but not too much, this is just an enjoyable time for everybody."

Noting that personal and team rivalries usually take a backdoor during events like this, Tocchet foresees a weekend that's more about companionship than anything else.

And for now, it's all good.

"It's more about the camaraderie that guys have, and a lot of these guys are friends of each other's, so I'll just step back and take it all in."

Though he's in St. Louis as the lone Coyote, Tocchet carries with him an immense amount of honor for his team that owns 57 points and a 26-20-5 record through the first 51 games of the campaign.

"Huge amount of pride," Tocchet said. "Two years ago, we lost our first 10 games of the year and we didn't make the playoffs, and now we have a chance to contend. We've come a long way over these past two years, the players have done a hell of a job buying into what we've tried to instill."

And though his roster back in Arizona may not be built on a ton of elite superstar-like skill, Tocchet's bunch operates on a staunch brand of balanced team performance.

"Our team is built on needing everybody to play," he said. "We don't have one, two or three guys that can carry a team. We need everybody, we probably can't win if five or six guys have a bad night and some other teams probably can, and I think our team embraces that and understands that."

Being able to articulate message and direction in a way that translates into on-ice performance is what being a great bench leader is all about.

"As a coach, you want your players to buy in, you hope they're going to buy in, and I think through the years I've been here I've been getting a lot of buy in from a lot of different players. That has really helped me get to the level I have, and our team, because of those guys buying in."

What the players hear, the coach sees.

"I really appreciate our leadership group and I really appreciate the young guys from my first year to now the third year and how they've bought in."

"And there's only more there for all of us."

But for now, he's an All-Star, once again.

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