— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) November 28, 2015
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Martin Hanzal dropped the deadpan one-liner of the night when asked what it meant to see Coyotes coach Dave Tippett record his 500th career victory.
“That means he’s got a bunch of good players,” Hanzal said.
The Coyotes could afford some humor after securing the milestone victory for Tippett with a 2-1, overtime victory over the Calgary Flames on Friday at Gila River Arena.
They sure made him earn it.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored with 39.9 seconds left in overtime, goalie Mike Smith made 25 saves and the Coyotes overcame six Calgary power plays to secure Tippett’s milestone victory.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of ugly games in that 500 so it was probably fitting that it was an ugly game,” Tippett said. “It means I’ve been around a long time.”
It also means he’s drawn a lot out of his players — more than most know given the challenges he’s faced since coming to Arizona in 2009 with a shoestring budget and a roster that has rarely matched up with the Western Conference elite.
“He’s a special coach that does a lot for each player individually and as a group, makes us play the right way,” Smith said.
Smith has a unique perspective on Tippett, having played for him in Dallas as well, where Tippett recorded 271 of those 500 victories. In his nearly 13 seasons as the main man on the bench, Tippett has earned a reputation as a players’ coach, but one who still tackles performance and behavioral issues head on.
“That’s what makes him a good coach,” Smith said. “Tip doesn’t sugarcoat it. He tells it like it is and that’s all you want from a coach is to know where you stand. It was like that in Dallas when I was there and he’s been like that here.”
As the Coyotes have slogged through a roster short on skill, Tippett has also earned a misplaced reputation as a guy who can’t coach offensive talent and doesn’t want to coach youth. This season’s successful infusion of players such as Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and even Tobias Rieder has dispelled that notion — one that never existed with the players.
“He appreciates hard work,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 years old or 40. If you work hard you get the ice time you deserve out there. That’s one of the things I appreciate most about Tip.”
Before reporters ever filed into the postgame interview room on Friday, they prepared themselves for a healthy dose of modesty from Tippett. For such a straight shooter, Tippett is surprisingly uncomfortable — to the point of stammering — when asked to summarize his own achievements.
“Players win games,” he said. “Coaches don’t win games. I’ve been real fortunate to work with some great players.”
His players clearly felt otherwise. After the game, center Antoine Vermette rewarded Tippett with the game belt normally reserved for the player of the game.
And the belt goes to… ????? https://t.co/UrgvGjlxqt
— #ThrowBlackFriday (@ArizonaCoyotes) November 28, 2015
“I’m so happy for him,” Ekman-Larsson quipped. “Vermy gave him the belt tonight so he’s probably going to play 45 minutes tomorrow.”
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