He's the most impressive young man I ever met. His list of achievements for a young man are unbelievable. -- Abe Pollin
The Washington Capitals received initial instruction in the power of positive thinking today. Coach Gary Green, during a two-hour session at the Sonesta Hotel, told his scarred, scorned subjects that "the sky is the limit."
Asked whether he thought this team, given the best possible attitude, could win the Stanley Cup, the 26-year-old Green replied, "Yup. A lot of people will laugh at me, but teams that believe in themselves, that believe in each other, that show great intensity, desire and concentration, can overcome teams with greater talent.
"You have to have talent, but it's not the biggest factor. The Philadelphia Flyers proved that, winning two Stanley Cups. I'm not going so far as to say to the players that this team will win the Stanley Cup and I'm not going to predict it, either, but I've told them the sky is the limit. i
"Winning has to produce a great feeling and they have to hate the feeling of losing. That way, if you're losing three-two in the third period, it will be far easier to come back, straining to enjoy a great taste and trying to avoid a bad taste."
Asked whether an intensive losing feeling might not create depression after a string of defeats, Green said, "Perhaps the problem here has been a buildup of frustration, and you do eventually go off the deep end. But we're not going to lose a lot of games.
"We have to go into every game feeling that we're going to win. If I have the least doubt that we'll win and if the players have the least doubt we'll win, then we'll have one strike against us. I can't tell you all the players believe it, but if they don't, I have to try to persuade them to believe it."
Green is a most persuasive person. At 21, he talked the owners of the Tam O Shanter Hockey School into hiring him as president. In two years, he had bought the company and merged it with the Can Am Hockey Group. Involved in all phases of hockey, Can Am now collects more than $1 million annually in student tutition alone.
"I had an incredibly hard time and there was a lot of pressure," Green said. "I had to motivate the employes and some of them were skeptical, to say the least. One guy met me in the airport and asked, 'Is your father here?' He was being facetious, of course.
"But it all boils down to communication and that's where I won them over. I had my beliefs in what the company needed and while I accepted their input, I stuck to my beliefs and I pulled it off."
The Tam O Shanter folks never asked Green's age. But two years later the Peterborough hockey club did. After serving as an assistant to Roger Neilson, Green applied for the junior hockey job as general manager-coach and added two years to his age.
"I felt bad about lying like that, but I was sure they wouldn't give it to me if they knew I was 23, so I told them I was 25" Green said. "I finally told them the truth the day after we lost the Memorial Cup final. One of the owners, Bud Robertson, asked, 'How old are you, really? I was 24 by that time and I told him and he said, 'I thought so.'
"By then my age had become a bit of a joke, because the small-town paper where my parents live had printed their 25th anniversary announcement on Sept. 1 and one of the hockey writers saw it. He kidded me for a long time, because I had said I was 25 on Aug. 23."
Green received a psychology degree from the University of Guelph, cramming three years' work into two. He conceded he made a mistake in rushing things, this time because he was afraid he would be too old.
"I wanted to get out early so I could give pro hockey a shot," Green said. "In hockey, 20 is the magical number and I was afraid if I waited until 21 they'd think I was a year older and not give me a chance. As a result, I didn't enjoy the university, taking extra courses while I was playing varsity hockey and working part time. Then I got married my last semester.
"I had a burning desire to play pro hockey, but I was sent from the Vancouver Blazers camp to Charlotte in the Southern League and then over to Roanoke. It was the most difficult day of my life, but I finally had to look in the mirror and say, 'you haven't got it.' There were guys in that league who were 34 and had never played in the NHL, carting their families around in U-haul trailers. What a life.
"At least I tried and found out. I had a friend who never tried and was still yearning for it. Playing in an industrial league and going the pre-game meal route and the rest of it. And, after that day, I never had the desire to try it again. I love teaching so much, I'd never give it up for playing, even if I could be really good. I enjoy teaching and motivating. And I like to be in charge.
"I like this job. I really felt at home today teaching the players, trying to get my system across by using the blackboard. Coaching is a combination of teaching and motivation, probably about 50-50. I like to think I can contribute 100 percent in each area."
Green cannot often find enough hours in the day to mold and implement his theories. He has been known to stay awake throughout the night pursuing the key to something new. During the summer, however, he insists on taking a few days to cruise a northern Ontario lake in one of his two boats.
"I have no social life and I sometimes work 24 hours straight, but I think it's important in summer to get some time to get away from it or you can go off the deep end," Green said. "I like to relax on the boat and try to analyze what I have done, what I plan to do, or what I think should be changed.
"It was while I was on the boat that I realized I hadn't given any thought to motivating the players through their wives and girlfriends. You have to coach the wives, too, because they have the greatest influence on the players, far more than I do. They have to be made to feel a part of the team."
The wives' bickering once prompted Tom McVie to suggest that they be made to feel a part of the team." Green, obviously, nurtures only positive thoughts.