Evgeni Nabokov

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

Mike Ricci opens up about his first month as Sharks assistant coach

It’s not just a safe assumption. It’s entirely accurate that Mike Ricci, as a hockey player, never thought he’d become a coach.

“Not back then for sure,” Ricci said recently. “Not even maybe two and a half weeks ago.”

The former Sharks forward was caught off guard by being named as an assistant on interim head coach Bob Boughner’s staff in mid-December.

“It was like boom, told to come to a meeting,” Ricci recalled.  

But there was no reservation in accepting the position.

“When a friend asks, and a boss asks, you’ve got to do it,” said Ricci. “Just going in and trying to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

All of this is a total change of scenery for Ricci – who after 1,099 NHL games as a player -- still hasn’t acclimated to his brand new perch behind the bench.

“If I’m going to be honest, I really haven’t had time to think about it,” Ricci admitted.  

The move was so fresh, and came with so much transition, Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich even had to double check that regular game duties would include a presence behind the players.  To which Ricci responded: “I think so…?”

As if the Sharks' need to turn things around wasn’t pressing enough, there’s also the challenge of Ricci learning the ropes of being an assistant coach for the very first time.

“You’ve got to find what makes everybody click,” Ricci said after less than a month of experiences. “Some guys like to see it. Some guys like to hear it. Some guys like it drawn on a board.”

One thing benefitting Ricci, goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov, and associate coach Roy Sommer is their familiarity and unquestioned dedication to the franchise. Each have been sporting teal for more than a decade, in one capacity or another.

[RELATED: Boughner urges Sharks to 'man up']

Ricci said there’s already a built-in level of trust when the coaching staff has to be critical of players, in trying to reverse the team’s struggles.

“I try to be myself, more than anything. It doesn’t matter how much I know, it matters how much I can get to a player.”

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

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AP

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

SAN JOSE -- No, the days of the player-coach hybrid aren't making a comeback. Although, if you're Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it might feel that way.

With the introduction of Bob Boughner as San Jose's interim head coach, the organization brought in staff that includes former Sharks Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- two players who were on the roster back when the now 40-year-olds hadn't reached their veteran status yet.

"It will be interesting to see them on the bench," Marleau said. "But they're very professional and they'll do a great job."

Marleau played with both Ricci and Nabokov in the early 2000s, while Thornton only logged time with Nabokov after coming to San Jose from the Boston Bruins in 2005. While it has been some time since either newly-appointed assistant coach has rocked a teal sweater, Ricci and Nabokov have stayed with the organization in different capacities over the last few years. Having that closeness and a high level of familiarity is something that can benefit the team as they go through a midseason coaching change.

"I know what they've been through and I know a lot about them, so it's easy to communicate with them," Marleau said.

Thornton agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"They've been here for a long time now," Thornton said. "To have them on the bench now is going to be fun."

Both Ricci and Nabokov have spent the last several seasons working on the development side of the Sharks' organization and have worked closely with players on the AHL Barracuda -- a team that has been coached by Roy Sommer up until he, too, was recently named assistant coach under Boughner. In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Boughner outlined how he believes his new coaching staff might function.

"We met last night as a staff and this morning and we still need to work through some things," Boughner admitted. "But Mike Ricci and Roy are going to be on the bench with me. Roy's going to move to the defensive side and run some power play. Ricci was a great penalty killer his whole career and I think we're going to be able to enjoy some of his expertise. I'll be running the forwards and obviously Nabby will (oversee) the goalies. There are still some job responsibilities we'll have to sort out in the next few days. But for now, I think those guys are excited. It was a big day for them as well."

[RELATED: How DeBoer's firing shocked Sharks players]

As far as reuniting Ricci and Nabokov with their former teammates, Boughner thinks working closely with Thornton and Marleau will benefit the entire roster as the Sharks try to, yet again, turn their season around after a tough stretch of losses.

"I think you can see, even in the morning, there's that report there," Boughner said of watching the reunion during morning skate. "There's deep respect. There's a lot of familiarity with those guys and I think that's going to help. Ricci and Roy have seen these young guys all the way up. I think there's great chemistry that we're going to have there."

Bob Boughner intends to return Sharks to their expected level of play

Bob Boughner intends to return Sharks to their expected level of play

It's been a wild 24 hours for Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner.

There was no time to waste, though, as one day after Peter DeBoer was fired, he had to ready San Jose to play the visiting New York Rangers at SAP Center.

"It's been a roller-coaster, obviously," Boughner told NBC Sports California's Jamie Baker before taking the ice Thursday night. "Mixed emotions.

"Everybody know how close our staff was and what Pete meant to me, not only as someone with a great working relationship but also as a good friend and a mentor. So, that wasn't an easy day. The flip side of that is an opportunity here -- a unique opportunity to sort of get these guys and steer this ship back in the right direction, and try and get this team playing to the level I think it's capable of."

The Sharks entered the game having lost five in a row, and were coming off a road trip in which they earned just one out of a possible eight points. That ultimately spelled doom for DeBoer and resulted in Boughner being elevated to head coach -- at least for the time being -- the same position he held with the Florida Panthers for each of the last two seasons.

So, yes, Boughner does have previous NHL coaching experience, not to mention eight seasons as head coach of the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. Still, just like any head coach, he'll rely heavily on his assistants.

Speaking of the assistant coaches, there were changes there, too. Out are Dave Barr, Steve Spott and Johan Hedberg. In are associate coach Roy Sommer, assistant coach Mike Ricci and goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov.

Boughner admitted that the newly formed staff still is figuring out its respective duties and responsibilities, but because of their collective experience within the organization -- Sommer most recently was head coach of the San Jose Barracuda, while Ricci and Nabokov had been in developmental roles -- Boughner is confident he has put the right group together.

"They're guys that really are relationship guys," Boughner said of his staff. "They're good with people and good with establishing that relationship with the player, so I feel comfortable in that regard."

[RELATED: Sharks players share how DeBoer's firing shocked them]

So, what changes should we expect to see in the Sharks post-coaching change? In general, Boughner wants his team to become harder to play against on a nightly basis.

"I think it's just a general mindset that we have to be a more aggressive team, not so passive, and we want to hunt pucks," he said, "but at the end of the day, it's just playing inspired."

Nothing about the Sharks' play as of late has been inspiring. Surely they're hoping the coaching change will fix that.