Falcons Coach Wants Accountability

Former NHL player Brad Larsen wants to raise the bar in his first pro coaching job

Wednesday, 05.23.2012 / 8:26 AM / Features
By Rob Mixer  - BlueJackets.com
After a 13-year playing career that took him from Denver to Atlanta and spanned 294 games, Brad Larsen discovered another form of the hockey bug behind a bench in Springfield, Mass.

It was different, for sure. But it was still hockey and there were still the same in-game thrills that ran through his body as a career grinder who had to earn every opportunity that came his way. The game was hard for him to let go, too – Larsen played one final season in the AHL before retiring to join the Falcons an assistant coach two years ago.

He was named the Falcons head coach on Monday, becoming one of the youngest head coaches in professional hockey. Like an emerging player who looks up to those around him, Larsen credits former Springfield coach Rob Riley for giving him the chance to learn the ropes as a coach and entrusting him with a significant amount of responsibility.

“(Riley) was the guy who took a chance on me as an assistant and someone who had just finished up playing,” Larsen told BlueJackets.com. “They really wanted someone like me to come in and work with the players, and we had good chemistry right away. I was given a lot of responsibility over the last couple of years with running practices and working on video with the players.”

There was one distinction that needed to be made right away, Larsen said, and it is going to ring true as he takes the reigns as the Falcons coach: he is not a player anymore. He is the coach and there are expectations that need to be met in order to have success.

The bottom line, he said, is accountability will be a group task.

“One of my big things is setting a standard for the team, and upholding the standard,” Larsen said. “That breeds consistency, and over time, creates a team that wins more than it loses. That’s something I’m really big on, and the players will hear me say a lot. There’s a process we have to go through as a group so that everyone understands we’re all in it together here.”

At age 33, he made the difficult decision of hanging up the skates for good and jumped right into coaching. Much like Blue Jackets assistant coach Dan Hinote, Larsen was an energetic bottom-six player in the NHL and finished out his career with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007-08.

Larsen decided to give it one last shot and attended Buffalo Sabres training camp on an invite in 2009-10, but ended up signing with their AHL affiliate in Portland. He played 55 games for the Pirates – under current Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen – and scored 13 goals before joining the Falcons as an assistant later that year.

When he arrived in Springfield, it was essentially a fresh start. There were few acquaintances and connections to his playing days. Larsen was officially a coach, and he proceeded to dive head-first into his new career path.

The efforts did not go unnoticed. Blue Jackets assistant GM Chris MacFarland called the Falcons head coaching hire one of the most important the club would make during the offseason, and one of the first people he reached out to was Larsen.

“After the season was over and things had settled down a bit, I met with Chris about the possibility of applying for the job,” Larsen said. “He gave me a few days to think about it, and I talked it over with my family. I wanted to put my name in the hat, so we went forward with the process from there.”

Larsen acknowledged that while the AHL is a developmental league first and foremost, the bar has to be high. The Falcons missed the playoffs in back-to-back years under Riley, and the first-year coach is not too keen on having an early summer in 2013.

“When this opportunity presented itself, I was confident and comfortable that I could do the job and do it well,” Larsen said. “You’re always learning and that part of the job never stops.

“I want responsible players and I like to play up-tempo hockey, but we have to build a solid team here first. For me, it’s about putting a team together that has great chemistry. Ultimately, that dictates your success as a group.”

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