Former Red Wings goalie Manny Legace, on life in the NHL bubble and coaching Columbus

Detroit News

Life in the NHL hockey bubble?

Manny Legace gives the entire experience a real big thumbs up.

The former Red Wings goaltender, now the goaltending coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets, experienced living in the NHL bubble during these playoffs for the past five weeks.

The Jackets were eliminated last week in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I wish I was still there,” said Legace, alluding to his team being eliminated. “I’m glad I was a part of it.

“It was actually really, really cool, because how often do you see eight teams walking around a hotel, a hotel that’s closed down for just NHL teams, and your meeting rooms are right across the hall from the New York Rangers, and you have the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto (Maple Leafs) downstairs. It was just real cool. It was amazing.”

For Legace, a hockey lifer who enjoys and appreciates every facet of the game, the entire bubble experience brought Legace back to when he was a youngster playing hockey.

“It reminded me of back when I was a kid,” Legace said. “Every hallway was set up with pingpong tables, so the guys are out in the hallways hanging out — you couldn’t go into anyone’s room — they’re hanging out and playing games in the hallways.

“It was a like big tournament, like the Quebec pee-wee tournament. You stay in the hotel, with everybody in the hallways, and it was just amazing to experience.

“The NHL has really done a great job with this.”

Legace played 11 seasons in the NHL, including with the Red Wings from 1999-2006, compiling a .918 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average in 180 games with Detroit. He helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2002, backing up Dominik Hasek.

Legace, 47, has earned praise around the league for his work with young Columbus goaltenders Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, who thrived just as Columbus lost star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky last summer in free agency.

Legace, who still lives in the Detroit area, talked about the bubble experience and his transition into coaching in an interview with The Detroit News.

Question. This entire bubble thing seems like a success. How was it to live inside of it?

Answer. Real cool. You have all these teams walking around the hotel. You go up or down the elevators together, go to restaurants together. You’re sitting there and watching Sidney Crosby walk around, or Carey Price over there, and you’re like ‘This is a messed up year, but this is real cool.’”

Q. From a coaching standpoint it sounds as if it could be really good. You can just immerse yourself in hockey every day. It’s just hockey all day, every day, while you’re within that setting.

A. You could go watch three games a day at the rink (during the qualifying- and first-rounds) if you wanted to. I did the first few days. I was there for the first round, watched all those games, but it kind of fizzled out after a while. You can only watch so much hockey.

Q. Still, it sounds like there could be issues. It could get frustrating just being there every, every day.

A. Oh yes, a couple days, like when you have off days or a rest day, well, you have literally nothing to do.

That upper deck (with the pool) at our hotel, everybody was out there. I mean, the NHL thought of everything. They had a Tim Hortons truck, you could get whatever you wanted all day long. They brought in another food truck right there where you could get things. The NHL thought of everything.

Q. How about the testing and feeling safe (from the virus) in that way?

A. The testing was easy; they had 20 nurses a day there. You had to get tested every day and then you had to go on this app, take your temperature every day. I just got up every morning and did it, there was never a line, and you go and got it done.

With (eight) teams and 50 people with each team, it was very organized.

Like I said, weird experience, but I was glad to be part of it.”

Q. It sounds real good, but let’s face it, for the teams that are still there, or will be for a month or more still, it still sounds like a challenge.

A. Everybody has to buy in. Let’s be honest, teams like Pittsburgh and Washington, they didn’t play like themselves. It is tough. You can’t see your families, you’re in a hotel all day long. You can’t just go out and get food. You had to order and there was a little drop off area for Ubereats, DoorDash and all those food-ordering services.

But it’s difficult. Your superstars have to buy in. It’s pretty hard to play in that atmosphere with no fans.

Q. Talk about that: You didn’t play, obviously, but you were there. What’s it like without fans in the building?

A. I tell you, some of the teams you’re playing, if you’re playing a strong defensive team that lulls you to sleep, it’s even more difficult when there are no fans.

The (qualifying) round was weird because they didn’t put in any sound (in the arena), only for TV. So, when we defeated Toronto, there was no noise in the entire building. They did (put in noise) in the next round and it was 100 times better.

It was just so weird (with no fans). You could literally hear everybody talking (on the ice, benches). You’re sitting there, and you could hear the coaches yell at the players. We were sitting across (from the benches), top of the upper bowl by the (television) cameras, the players who weren’t in the lineup and the coaches, and we could hear as if we were standing right next to them.

You had to chuckle when you heard something and thought to yourself ‘Well, TV just picked that up’.”

Q. There is already minor speculation that the bubble format could be the way to go once the regular season begins (for the 2020-21 season). Or some variation of the bubble. Do you think it would work for the regular season?

A. I could see it for the preseason, definitely. There won’t be anybody (in the arenas), and just the cost of running it, it’s going to be hard. And especially in the small markets, where as hockey isn’t getting the big television revenues like baseball and football, you need the fans.

(But) if we had to do the playoffs again without fans, I don’t think it should happen. It’s just not the same without fans. There’s no home-ice advantage. It’s just not even close to the same.

It was interesting to do it, and everyone understood why we had to do it, but I don’t think we should do it again for the playoffs.

Q. You really do realize how important fans are to the entire operation, don’t you?

A. The fans are so important, especially when you have a great fan base like we have (in Columbus). When we played Tampa the year before, the entire lower bowl in our place never sat down the entire game. We have to play with high energy and the fans give you that, they take you to another level.”

Q. Talk about the coaching. How are you enjoying it, and how you do approach it? A lot of people always felt with your temperament and personality you’d make an ideal goaltending coach. How has it been?

A. I love it, absolutely love it. I retired in 2012 and I started (coaching) in the minors the next season and the last two years I’ve been up here (in the NHL). It’s fun for me, it’s not even work. I just enjoy working with the guys.

I’ve just taken little bits from the guys I’ve been around. I was blessed to have some real good goaltending coaches. Just being around Jimmy Bedard (with the Red Wings), and how he handled us and worked with us.

That’s how I try to mimic things. We trusted Jimmy so much, and that’s the key, to get your guys to trust you and have fun. It’s such a long year and stressful.

Everything that these guys have gone through, I’ve gone through. Playing in Europe, playing in the world championships, playing in the Olympics, I’ve been in every situation. You’re trying to figure out how to become a starter, or if you’re backing up for the first time and you how do you sit there for three weeks.  I’ve been in all situations, so just try to work with them. I love it. I love working with these guys.

Q. Your goaltenders played extremely well, and collectively as a team, you guys had a successful season.

A. “Especially losing three guys that were pretty big stars in this league (to free agency), we could have just crumbled, and the injuries we had, we had 12 guys out of the lineup at one point. But our young guys came up and they didn’t just mix in, they were big parts of every game, and I have to tip my hat to the rest of the coaching staff.

I kind of just worry about my two guys (goaltenders), but they had to worry about 30 or 40 players. And our leadership in the room, those guys never allowed us to fail. These guys put on their hard hats every day and it’s pretty fun to watch.

Q. How is it like to work with (head coach) John Tortorella?  Fans see one side of Tortorella on the bench or in press conferences, but he’s known to have a completely different side away from the camera.

A. Well, he hates reporters (Legace laughs loudly). But, really, he’s the type of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back. He has his farm where he rescues (different animals) and his wife is amazing, and they just do anything for anyone. The guy is really a great human being.

He’s the type of person that doesn’t let anything fester. If there’s an issue, it’s dealt with right now. He nips it in the bud.

He cares so much about his team, he really loves these guys, and just the way he goes about it, he gets emotional about it which is great.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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