GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Two hours before a monumental playoff game the other day, a New York hockey coach was asked whether he is big on pregame speeches.
The playoff coach we had gotten accustomed to around here, the Islanders’ Barry Trotz, might have answered that question with a 10-minute disquisition on the history of pregame speeches and detoured into a story about the time he saw “Knute Rockne, All American” as a lad at a small theater in Dauphin, Manitoba.
The playoff coach we have around here now answered this way: “No.”
To be fair, after a brief pause the Rangers’ Gerard Gallant did expand on the topic, sort of, adding, “Keep it the same, keep it simple and let the boys go play hockey.”
That was before Game 7 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins, in which they came back from a 3-1-game deficit with three consecutive come-from-behind victories and moved on to face the Hurricanes beginning Wednesday night in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It was vintage Gallant, who like the since-fired Trotz is an old-school late-50s hockey lifer from Canada but who presents a very different public face — and for that matter a very different public face from his more expansive, more hands-on Rangers predecessor, David Quinn.
Part of the charm of Gallant is that his keep-it-simple approach is not an act for the public. It is genuine, and it seems to have been embraced by his players, whose resilience has become such a cliché that Mika Zibanejad said he feels like he is repeating himself talking about it all the time.
On Tuesday, Gallant was at it again after practice, all but shrugging at any question that suggested games in mid-May should be treated differently than ones in mid-October.
“I do the same thing as I do for Game 1 of the regular season,” he said. “I'm not putting more importance on this game than the other ones. Players have got enough pressure; we try and take pressure off them.
“Just go play your game and have fun. That's what I do. So we prepare the same way no matter what kind of game it is.”
It is not as if Gallant has nothing to say to his team, of course. But he can do without gimmicks and poetry.
“I mean, we have our speeches, we have our preparation,” he said. “I guess what I'm saying is I'm not going to bring in somebody from the Buffalo Bills or somebody like that and give you a speech to tell.
“Some coaches might like it. I don't. I just want to prepare my team the same way, and there's nothing going to be different. I've heard of people doing it and it worked good for teams, and I've heard it work the other way against teams.”
Gallant, who grew up on Prince Edward Island, Canada, was a gritty, pretty good, no-nonsense player in 11 NHL seasons, mostly with the Red Wings, totaling 211 goals, 269 assists and 1,674 penalty minutes.
And he has been a gritty, pretty good, no-nonsense coach in previous stops in Columbus, Florida and Las Vegas, the last of which he led to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season as an expansion team.
But each of those teams fired him during his third season, so who knows how far the Rangers ride will take him?
For now, he seems like the right fit for a team with a decentralized leadership culture, including no captain but six alternates. He is a coach that trusts everyone in his dressing room to act and play like grownups — even though some of them barely are, based on their ages.
Gallant believes the pep belongs in the players’ steps, not in the coach’s talk.