Zack Kassian is a surprisingly soft-spoken guy off the ice. In an interview setting, he’s low-key and fairly reserved. He can be that way on the ice sometimes, which likely contributes to his streakiness. It’s likely that motivation rather than skill will be his major limitation early in his career and it will be Vigneault’s challenge to figure out what motivates him.
Different players require different types of motivation, something Vigneault has spoken about in the past. “I think part of coaching is getting the most you can out of the personnel,” he said in a Q and A with the Vancouver Board of Trade in early 2011, “and that’s getting to know your personnel both on and off the ice and how to handle individuals. You can’t treat everybody the same way but you can treat them fairly. Some guys need to be handled with a little bit of cuddling sometimes and some have to be harped on sometimes. That’s what they want.”
I have a suspicion that cuddling is not the best way to motivate Kassian. Instead, Kassian seems to need something to get him emotionally involved. On Thursday night, Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars figured out exactly what gets Kassian motivated: royally piss him off.
Kassian’s second period bout with Roussel was a doozy. Roussel initially appeared to get the upper hand, but then Kassian began raining punches down on Roussel, showing him to be thoroughly outmatched. They weren’t just regular punches, though; they were angry punches.
Kassian continued to throw punches after Roussel fell down to his knees and even more after Roussel’s jersey came up over his head. The former is something that is normally frowned upon by the hockey establishment, but what’s frowned upon even more, however, is starting a fight when you’re wearing a visor.
After the game, Kassian laughed about the incident, saying, “I kept telling him, let’s take our helmets off, but he wouldn’t listen. He just charged me.”
He wasn’t laughing during the game, however, shouting at Roussel, “Take your f***ing helmet off!” as soon as the linesmen stepped in between the two combatants, as well as another F-word before the cameras cut away. He continued to yell at Roussel in the penalty box, but gave it up when it was apparent Roussel wasn’t listening.
It’s pretty easy to see why he was upset. It wasn’t just that Roussel fought with a visor on, it’s that he launched himself into the fight while Kassian was still expecting him to take it off. At the 58-second mark of the above video, Kassian reaches up to his helmet to remove it, clearly expecting Roussel to reciprocate. Instead, Roussel tried to catch Kassian off-guard, engaging with the larger forward immediately and throwing multiple punches before Kassian could respond.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising to see Kassian swinging wildly
Vigneault seemed to like Kassian’s emotion. Prior to the fight, Kassian had been dropped from the second line down to the fourth after a couple questionable defensive plays. While he only had five shifts after his fight, those shifts came twice on the second line with Kesler and Higgins, once on the powerplay with Schroeder and Raymond, and once after a penalty kill with the Sedins.
Vigneault’s decision to put Kassian back into an offensive role after his fight paid off on the go-ahead goal. His strong work on the boards freed the puck up for Kesler, who swung the puck on net. Jason Garrison picked up the rebound and, after his initial shot was blocked (painfully) by none other than Roussel, he fired home a slapshot, putting the Canucks up 3-2. Kassian picked up the second assist on the goal, giving him 8 points in 16 games.
Kassian still has a lot of work to do if he wants to earn a permanent role on the first or second line. Consistency and defensive awareness are two of his biggest flaws, with both of them potentially fixed by ensuring that he’s mentally engaged in every game with the right motivation. He obviously can’t (and shouldn’t) fight every game and being motivated purely by anger can’t be the solution.
Or maybe anger is the solution. Perhaps his secret will be the same as Bruce Banner’s: I’m always angry.
Photoshop by thepuckmonster on Deviant ArtTags: Antoine Roussel, fight fight fight fight, fighting, The YouTubes, videos, Zack Kassian