Ryan Strome was in the formative stages of his NHL career with only 37 games under his belt with the New York Islanders and getting ready for the rigors of a full 2014-15 regular season.
“I was pretty raw at the time,” Strome recalled.
Each coach on Jack Capuano’s Islanders staff was responsible for meeting with a smaller group of players on a regular basis. Strome’s point of contact happened to be assistant coach Greg Cronin, who was back for a second stint with the Islanders after three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not wasting any time, Cronin addressed a concern during the preseason.
“He pulled me aside and challenged me and called me out a little bit, just one on one,” Strome said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He was just trying to push me and I responded really well to that. After that, I think I was locked in under his watch for the remainder of the season. So I got to know him really well.
“He certainly challenged me. Looking back, it was a good thing for my career.”
And now, one of the old bosses is the new boss in Anaheim.
Strome’s phone started going off with a series of texts from Ducks teammates when Cronin was officially named their new head coach on Monday. He dealt with a challenging golf course in Ontario, Canada – shooting 84 at The National Golf Club in Vaughan – and also had a brief chat with Cronin on Cronin’s first day on the job.
“When I found out yesterday, it was a trip down memory lane,” said Strome, 29, who is coming off the first year of a five-year contract with the Ducks. “Obviously we’re both at really different places in our careers now. It’s nice to have someone that’s familiar. When you go to a new team, you meet a whole new group of guys. Now getting a coach – having someone that knows me personally – is easier for me. Hopefully, I can help the transition for him as well.”
Ducks forward Jayson Megna has a more recent history with Cronin, having played 103 games with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL over parts of four seasons. Cronin was the Eagles’ head coach for the past five seasons before joining the Ducks.
Megna used the words “fast” and “suffocating” to describe Cronin-coached teams.
“The work ethic is apparent. It’s a fast game and I think it bodes well for the players on the Ducks, especially with all the young talent they have,” Megna said. “I’d say it kind of feels like it suffocates you out there with no time and space. You’re constantly jumping on the puck, good gaps, forechecking and the back pressure there on the backcheck. It definitely squeezes the ice and demands the players work hard and skate hard.”
The Ducks claimed Megna on waivers from the Colorado Avalanche in December, and he will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Megna said Cronin’s enthusiasm was contagious during their time together with the Eagles.
“He’s a very authentic person and players like his honesty,” Megna said. “There’s no gray area. He tells you exactly how he feels. Doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s what you want in a coach. He definitely tries to make you better as a person, and I think that translates to becoming a better player once he understands how to push your buttons.”
Strome listened to clips of Cronin’s introductory news conference at Honda Center on Monday.
“I heard the one part where he said he was comfortable in being honest with players,” Strome said. “And that’s the truth. The one thing – he’s very black and white the way he conducts his business. Sometimes you may not like what he has to say or you disagree. But at least you’re getting someone’s honest opinion on a daily basis. As a player, that’s all you can ask for.”
The modern-day, player-coach relationship – messaging and the delivery – is a far cry from when Cronin first started in the business 36 years ago. Or when Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek played in the NHL.
“Today’s athlete – the relationship building is critical,” Cronin said on Monday. “You can be hard. But you also have to be compassionate. You go back to when Pat was playing, guys got ripped apart in locker rooms and nobody was there to put them back together. They had to do it themselves.
“You can’t do that today. I don’t think that works. … It’s like any relationship, there’s going to be some bumps in the road. There’s going to be times when they want to run me over in the parking lot. I’m willing to do that, create that (relationship), as long as we know we’re working together to create a vision and execute it.”