In this last part of the interview with Dean Lombardi, he talks about his expectations for the Kings going forward…
Question: Your team’s basic goal this season, to make the playoffs, was pretty obvious. You’ve talked, in the past, about how difficult it can be for teams to follow up on that, to build on that and take the next step. Going into next season, what can you say to them to sharpen that focus, to make sure they’re focused on a new, even bigger goal?
LOMBARDI: “It’s Hamburger Hill. I told them after the season that they’re ready to hear the Hamburger Hill speech for the first time. My boys in San Jose, they text me and say, `Did you give them the Hamburger Hill speech yet?’ No, not yet. The point is, it’s what you’re talking about, and that was certainly a theme when I talked to them as a group at the end of the year, and as individuals. `It starts now. You’re back at the bottom. You can be proud of what you accomplished, but the fact of the matter is that you’re going all the way back down to the bottom again.’ We had success, but that success is only going to be valuable if we learn why we failed. Our success puts us in situations where we can learn the level we have to get to, and learn from our mistakes so we don’t fail again. That’s the story of Hamburger Hill, in a nutshell. That’s the whole point of that story, and then going back to the bottom because you didn’t make it to the top. It was a great story, told to me by a certain Vietnam vet 15 years ago. I thought about how it pertained to hockey, and I gave it in San Jose and it kind of became a buzz word. The kids would text me during the season, wondering if I had done it here yet. They know how I feel about how a team is built, and they were wondering if we were close, to where we were ready. I thought they were ready at the end of the year.
“It’s a way to make that point that you’re talking about. If the boys up there are still thinking about it, it must have resonated pretty well (laughs). Most of them are retired though. But I believe that, and that is the challenge. I guess I’m getting a little off track here, but the point is that you start delivering that message right away. `It’s going to be harder. Don’t forget, too, that when we started out well and got ahead of the pack, nobody respected you. Nobody prepared for you. Nobody was circling any names on the board. Cover this guy.’ Kopi was probably the microcosm of that, right? He leads the league in scoring and, uh oh, now you’re starting to draw some checkers and they’re paying attention to you and it gets a little harder. Well, the same thing can happen to this team now, so you better be ready. No freebies now because teams don’t respect you.
“The expectations thing, dealing with expectations, that’s huge. Until they learn to deal with it, they’ll never be a great team. That’s a big difference from coming in and saying, `Our goal is to make the playoffs.’ That’s every team’s goal. Every team says that. But the reality is, I think they thought they had a chance at it. They thought they could have done it. But they have to get to a point where it’s, `Hey, we know we can do this now. We have to get it done.’ And it ain’t going to be easy, as we see in this league right now. The fact of the matter, too, is that we won a lot of games in shootouts. We’ve got to get a whole lot better.”