Jeremy Colliton showed the same maturation as an NHL head coach at his end of the year Zoom press conference on Friday - marking the end of his second season with the Blackhawks - as he did when his players were prepared to flip the script in a once in a lifetime postseason opportunity against a better team on paper.
The Hawks beat the home ice Oilers in four games for the best-of-five series in the postseason tournament's qualifying round, giving Colliton his first career postseason series win in the NHL as a head coach. Then, they advanced to lose to the stacked, Stanley-Cup caliber Vegas Golden Knights. Chicago fell in five games to Vegas, but lost three that were decided by one goal and showed no signs of quitting.
The 35-year-old bench boss made some decisions in Game 5 against the Golden Knights that left some fans and members of the media scratching their heads, but on Friday Colliton explained each one.
On the Zoom call, he was asked about the decision to leave Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews on the bench and not use a timeout near the end of Game 3, plus having John Quenneville come into the lineup for Alex Nylander and play on the top line for Game 5.
"After a series and after every game, you look at some of the things you did and you walk it back and say is there another door we could open. All I can do is you go through it and look at the reasons why," Colliton said. "The timeout in Game 3 … First of all, Tazer, they had an offensive zone faceoff at four minutes and didn't work out. They ended up getting hemmed in for a minute. I think that took a lot out of him. And then when we got his next shift, I think it was around the two-minute mark. He just looked like he didn't have any juice. Looking at him on the bench too, just felt like he was gassed. I didn't think that 30 seconds was going to be enough to get him ready to go.
"On the other side of it, Vegas, they were 40 seconds in. It was an icing. (Max) Pacioretty iced it. The guys they had on the ice (probably not who they wanted), their D pairing probably, (Nate) Schmidt and (Brayden) McNabb, but the forwards, they didn't have a right-handed center 40 seconds into the shift. So we felt our guys were fresh enough, and (Dylan Strome) Stromer, we felt he had a really good game. Faceoff-wise, he was our best guy that game. It didn't work out. We won the faceoff, but we weren't able to create enough. But I'm not sure we would have gone a different way or not.
"The Quenneville thing, we wanted to change it up. I thought that Toews' line, they were outstanding in the Edmonton series, I didn't think they were quite as effective in the Vegas series. We tried in Games 3 and 4 to maybe shift it around to put (Patrick Kane) Kaner there a little bit to just change up the rotation somewhat. We felt like Quenneville... we knew Tazer liked playing with Quenneville. He talked about it a lot during the year that he enjoyed playing with him. Just a way to inject a bigger body, physical, good shot. And then that allowed us to move (Brandon) Saad with Strome and (Aex) DeBrincat, and I thought they were probably our best line in Game 5.
"You know what? We didn't win, so we'll go back and look at those things and second-guess it and wonder what else could we have done. But I thought Quenneville was really good in Game 5. He had four or five solid hits on the forecheck, adding an element that we probably didn't have enough of in the series. A couple really good defensive plays, a willingness as we talked about earlier, he skated the puck out of D-zone two, three, four times and took a hit to make a play to get it deep so we could get a change. And those little things, we need more of in our group. I thought for a guy coming in, he hadn't played much, can't really ask for too much more from him."
Credit to Colliton for answering the questions and not storming off or refusing to answer them like the tired act another certain head coach put on display this postseason. People may not like some of his responses, but he had answers. Jeremy had reasons for his decisions and like a lot of the youthful Hawks that showed promise in Edmonton, he's still learning and wanting to get better himself as a sophomore head coach in his mid-thirties. Also like the players, the opportunity on a big stage against good teams did him a lot of good as a coach and it can only help the Hawks' chances of a better finish next year.