Comet Tales with Travis Green
Below the seating in The AUD, just hours from puck drop, you can hear the quiet.
The product that was presented on the ice through 76 American Hockey League games during the Utica Comets' inaugural season is a product that was designed, tweaked, and meticulously reviewed on a daily basis. The designing, tweaking, and reviewing happens from a room few are aware of, and even less have visited.
First-year professional head coach Travis Green, who is a veteran of 15 professional hockey seasons in the NHL as a player, all beginning in 1989 when drafted in the second round by the New York Islanders, is a creature of habit. Like most, finding that groove in his daily routine is vital. To find Green and his staff of two assistants Nolan Baumgartner and Paul Jerrard isn't easy.
It's Wednesday April 16, the Rochester Americans are visiting The AUD for their fourth and final time this season in a crucial game for the Comets' playoff chances. Three games remain for the Comets who currently in third place in the Western Conference's North Division. Two hours prior to face-off Green is alone in his office prepping for the evening's game.
There are a couple doors and as many turns made in locating his office inside the Comets locker room. Once inside the newly constructed and vast locker room, you proceed through the players' changing room until you reach the first door on your right. There is no name nor title marked. By habit for some, by order for others, it is understood who occupies the space.
Green's space is unassuming but neat and orderly. The bone-colored walls hang a large flat-screen TV to the left of Green's L-shaped. The TV is used primarily for scouting upcoming opponents. Right now it displays the night's opponent's previous game versus the Lake Erie Monsters. In front of Green's desk is a comfortable looking black, leather couch embroidered with a black and white Comets logo. At the far end of the couch sits a mid-size Coca~Cola refrigerator loaded with bottled water.
On his desk sit a few papers, all in precise order. To the coach's right sits a Canucks issued laptop computer, which as the evening progresses becomes the most important piece of hardware in the room. Most noticeably is the quiet. Whatever music is playing through the players' lounge area, whatever is going on upstairs in the seating, all are oblivious in Green's work space. It is library quite, an environment that nurtures total concentration.
There are a few small white boards leaning against a wall and one large board permanently fixed above Green's desk. Notes pertaining to Rochester players, Rochester strategies, and the night's game plan accompany Comets player's names listed in no certain order on the large white board. Focused and busy, Green tells of arriving for tonight's game at 4:30pm - as always.
In 30 minutes Green will address his players. In the spacious video room, down the hall and to the right of the coach's office is where they will gather.
"We will go over the keys of the game. Discussing five-on-five, the power play, as well as the breakouts. This is important," says Green, who shared a locker room with Comets' President Robert Esche as teammates with the Phoenix Coyotes.
It's 5:40pm when Green returns to his office. Usually at around this time he records his comments with Comets radio broadcaster Brendan Burke for the pre-game radio show. However, today Burke and Green shared their thoughts earlier in the day. Burke and his wife Mary are expecting their first child, and a doctor's appointment would shift the interview time. Green, with a calmness and confidence not seen by the fans, he prints his main selling points to his team on what to concentrate on, in hopes of containing the Amerks, and adding an important two points to the Comets resume.
The politeness and steadiness in Green's approach should not be mistaken for weakness. It's clear that the native of Castlegar, BC, enjoys little down time in his approach, by choice. He will speak with his children - daughter Jordyn and sons Blake and Brody, and wife Sheree, prior to tonight's game. On any given day, Green will speak four to five times with his family.
In an empty Comets locker room, Green takes his time in posting his "reminders" for when warm-ups conclude. There is no doubt that regardless of the score Green gives his squad an abundance of information to digest on the visitors.
"I give the players a couple key points to get across about them (Rochester)," Green said. "You have to be very sharp as a team. It tests your faith in what you believe in. You stick to what you believe in, and you have to be realistic."
It was a trying time for the organization when the Comets kicked off their new beginnings in the AHL by going winless during their first 10 trips to the ice. Green testifies that the guys were working hard and were better than what the 0-8-1-1 record stated. Clearly, the pro within didn't have Green hovering over a panic button last October.
"The support from Vancouver was incredible. They knew, and I knew we weren't an 0-8-1-1 team. We deserved a better fate," recalled Green.
In a relaxed and confident demeanor Green reflects on the "challenging time" that was last fall with no regret. Believing in the system he and his staff built, the coach recalls not making a "bunch of changes".
The support of the Comets fans has not gone unnoticed by Green or his team, and is especially remembered during the early season winless streak.
"Having the people on their feet cheering for us was appreciated," Green explains, as he is going over notes on tonight's game seated at his desk, and only occasionally lifting his head.
Just as the fan base was in search of Utica's first regular season victory, at the time Green recalls his players always being positive. Citing the Comets goaltending (Joe Cannata and Joacim Eriksson) slowly getting better, the season slowly began to straighten itself out.
Being apart from his family during this AHL season is rough for Green, as it would for any family. But, you sense from Travis that it has become a normal routine, and a way of life for the Green family. There are reasons larger than ice, skates, pucks, and cups that this is the lifestyle in which Travis and Sheree deal. The Green's have an autistic son. By his own admission Travis opens up about his private life rarely. He tells of his son, Brody, being accepted to a world class program at UCLA on autism. He attends school five days a week for 33 hours.
Wondering what is planned for what follows the season for Green, I'm interested if there are any special vacation spots he and his family will visit. Quite the opposite is on the coach's radar. He doesn't want to do anything but be at home, with his family, doing "normal" things.
"You never want the season to end," Green believes. "It takes a couple weeks to slow down."
Green hopes he has made a difference in the progression of his players to the NHL. Baumgartner, a former Canuck and only two seasons removed as a player, enters the office. Both he and Jerrard's office is separated by an adjoining door to Green's. Dressed in blue shorts and a Comets t-shirt, the two discuss strategies that they hope will best the Amerks on this evening. Green's other aid, Paul Jerrard, who suited up as a Minnesota North Star, will also pop in for exchanges of ideas before all three will walk to the bench for the 7pm puck drop.
Living alone, you wonder what a hockey-lifer like Green does or where his local travels bring him when not holed up in The AUD. When not going to the movies in his free time Green reveals that some of the eateries he frequents are Aqua Vino, Babe's, and Delmonico's.
Travis is clearly comfortable in his post-playing role. Admittedly a student of hockey since age 7, the coach has string beliefs. Getting players to buy into his beliefs is a hurdle all coaches are challenged with.
"How do I get players to perform at their best, be it on the power play, in the neutral zone, or where have you. How do I communicate to them on a regular basis," Green states.
When asked for a good role model of a coaching communicator to follow, without any hesitation, Green confidently calls out Al Arbour - his first NHL coach, and who steered the Islanders dynasty in the 80Ã¢=80"s to five consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals.
"He (Arbour) knew when to be hard or soft on us players. He wasn't the same for every player. I want all our guys to succeed and I'm proud of how our team has grown," reveals Green.
I am reminded that Vancouver dispatches their players to Utica to develop their hockey skills, but that the Comets are here also to win. Somehow, the coach, to borrow a baseball term, has found the sweet spot with his roster. A 3-2 win over a very good team, the Toronto Marlies, this past Friday evening is evident of that.
With Canucks general manager Mike Gillis being let go by the Vancouver Canucks earlier this month, and longtime Canuck fan favorite Trevor Linden being his replacement, would change in command have any effect on Green's future or approach to his coaching methods?
"I played with Trevor on two or three world championships. I saw him back in training camp. He's the face of the franchise. It's an exciting time for the Canucks," said Green.
While going through notes on his laptop, another visitor drops by and joins me on the Comets couch - Jonathan Bates. Bates is a pro scout for the Canucks who covers the NHL, the AHL, and the collegiate level in the United States. Green is snacking as Bates tells of his travels and offers input on player performances. Shortly after, Jerrard and Baumgartner begin the process of going over reminders one last time with Green.
The three coaches huddle, focusing their energies at the white board on the wall, the written notes, and the increasingly valuable laptop. Simple and valuing time, the coaches are preparing for their walk to the bench. There is a last minute check on the lines. Baumgartner and Jerrard have returned from observing the Amerks warming up, as they do every game in The AUD.
Throughout my pre-game visit Green's left hand is seemingly in constant motion. His penmanship is A-plus. Reminders notes, for him and his players, are bountiful, and necessary.
When it is game time, Green walks to the furthest end from his desk to a coat rack. He has a couple black sport coats to choose from, along with securing his neck tie, in preparing for the walk. Green, leading Baumgartner and Jerrard to the ice, take route through trainer Dustin Flynn's room, into the now noisy AUD corridor. It's game time, and the quiet, rightfully so, is gone.
On Sunday, the quiet in Green's office will unfortunately infect the rest of The AUD for the next six months. The white boards will be clear, computers stowed, and locker room empty. As Travis Green, just as players, coaches, and the rest of Comets hockey operations return home to heal and train, you can't help but to root for his contributions to the overall success of the franchise. Selfishly, fans and staff alike, will anxiously await his return for another season.
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