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Butch Goring

As a center on four Stanley Cup champion New York Islander teams in the '80s, Butch Goring was hailed as the "final piece of the puzzle."

His subsequent exclusion as a National Hockey League coach, however, remains his own personal Rubik's Cube."Everybody keeps telling me I'm the obvious choice, and maybe that's why I'm not there," said Goring, who is preparing the Utah Grizzlies for Saturday's International Hockey League opener at Long Beach. "Obviously, I feel I've paid my dues and have had a certain amount of success. I'm ready, in my mind, to take another run at the National Hockey League."

Goring coached the Boston Bruins for 96 games between 1985 and 1986, posting a 42-41-3 record, but he's spent the past decade in the minors. Since 1994 he's served as vice-president of hockey operations/head coach/general manager for the Grizzlies.

"Probably more than anything else it was a lack of experience," he said, explaining his NHL coaching shortcomings. "I don't think I made any huge errors - no more errors than any coach makes." Goring assumed head coaching duties as soon as he retired from playing.

"Given what I've been through now, I lacked experience," he added. "I'm smarter. You learn every day. I'm a better coach today than I was yesterday. I'm a better coach than I was 10 years ago."

Since his dismissal 13 games into the 1986-87 NHL season, Goring has coached four different minor league franchises. Stints with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, Capital District Islanders of the American Hockey League, Las Vegas Thunder and Grizzlies of the IHL have helped the Manitoba, Canada, native hone his skills behind the bench. He earned back-to-back IHL Coach of the Year awards while leading the Grizzlies to Turner Cup championships in both 1995 and 1996.

"I don't know what else I can do," said Goring. "Obviously you're always learning, and I'll always continue to learn, but I don't know what else I can do to make myself a better candidate. I work hard on my skills as a coach."

As a player, Goring used speed and smarts to overcome his small stature during a lengthy NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings, Islanders and Bruins. Playing the center position, he won three major individual awards on the ice, including the sportsmanship-oriented Lady Byng Trophy and Bill Masterton Memorial awards in 1978.

Two years later, on March 10, 1980, he began an odyssey that would lead to arguably the longest moniker in all of professional sports.

A trade-deadline deal sent Goring from the Kings to the Islanders, where he made his presence known immediately. With Goring in the line-up, the Islanders went on a 12-game unbeaten streak and eventually claimed the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

Goring's heroics led to his being tabbed by the New York media as the "final piece to the puzzle."

It was a perfect fit.

In 1981, he won the Conn Smythe Award as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It's obviously a compliment that I could fit in somewhere," said Goring. "But as I've said many times before, that was a good, very strong hockey club. So it wasn't like I came in there and all of a sudden made them a talented hockey team. I was just able to lend some leadership and veteran play."

During his 332-game stay with New York, Goring helped the Islanders reach the Stanley Cup finals five times (winning four) and prevail in an NHL-record 19 straight playoff series. He recorded four hat tricks, once scoring four goals in a game, and posted 18 career shorthanded scores, the second-highest goal total in franchise history.

"I was a very committed player," said Goring. "When I came to the rink, I felt that I never cheated anybody. I played hard every day."

Grizzlies owner David Elmore said Goring coaches with the same passion.

"He only asks of his players what he'd be willing to do himself. If that means going through the wall, that's what he'd do," said Elmore. "He was that kind of player, and he expects that."

Goring also expects to win.

"The fact that he hates to lose as much as he does translates to the players," said Utah captain Gord Dineen, a 15-year pro with NHL experience. "I think the atmosphere he creates . . . is one of the best things he can contribute to any team."

Goring runs a disciplined but loose ship. He rarely wears socks, and he packs his razor away during the playoffs each season (a time-honored tradition to many in the sport). Maintaining rapport with his players is a priority, something he learned from legendary Islanders coach Al Arbour.

"The most important thing I learned was that you've got to handle people. The game is not all X's and O's," said Goring. "You have to know your players as well as humanly possible. Certainly that's something I've taken to heart."

Developing his communication skills is one area Goring has focused on in preparing for a return to the NHL.

"I think I'm very fair," Goring said. "Most players will tell you that the one ingredient they want from their coach is to be able to sit down and talk to them or have some feedback from them to know where they stand. I think I bring that to the table . . .

"The hardest thing to do is sit down with players and be honest with them. It's difficult," Goring said. You have to look them in the eye and tell them there is a problem here or just in general talk to them. It's not easy to sit a guy, because they all want to play."

Given his NHL coaching aspirations, Goring knows the feeling all too well.

"Hopefully," he said. "All these things I've been working at will give me another opportunity in the National Hockey League someday."

Goring won't, however, leave Utah for just any NHL job.

"I'm not being egotistical. It's just I think my next opportunity is an important opportunity and I want to make sure it is right," he said, acknowledging that he'd been interested in recent openings in Phoenix and Buffalo.

"I want to go to the NHL for the right reason. And the right reason is I want to win a Stanley Cup. If I can't win a Stanley Cup at some point and time with a team, then I'm not going. If it's a one-year process or five, that's fine. I just want to feel like it's realistic."

Until then, Goring has a place to call home with the Grizzlies.

"I've been involved with a lot of coaches and managers in baseball and hockey, and I've never respected someone more than Butch," Elmore said. "He just does an outstanding job. If I owned an NHL team, he'd be my guy.

Meanwhile, Goring said he isn't lying awake at night wondering why he isn't coaching in the NHL.

"It's not frustrating. It's just hockey. That's the best way to describe it. There's no rhyme or reason many times, so I'm not going to sit there and wonder what the heck is going on. I'll just accept whatever it is and just continue to do whatever I do."

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Additional Information

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ROBERT T. "BUTCH" GORING

c/o Utah Grizzlies

E Center

West Valley City, Ut. 84119

Position sought: National Hockey League head coach

Coaching experience:

1994-present: Utah grizzlies, vice-president of hockey operations/head coach/general manager.

Two Turner Cup championships (1995, 1996).

Two-time International Hockey League Coach of the Year (1995, 1996).

1993-94: Las Vegas thunder (IHL), head coach.

1990-93: Capital District Islanders (AHL), head coach.

1987-88: Spokane Chiefs (WHL), head coach.

1985-86: Boston Bruins (NHL), head coach.

Playing experience

Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins (NHL)

Personal

Played on four Stanley Cup championship teams with the New York Islanders (1980, '81, '82, '83).

Conn Smythe Trophy winner (1981): MVP NHL Stanley Cup playoffs

Lady Byng Trophy winner (1978): For sportsmanship and gentlemanly play combined with ability.

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner (1978): Presented by the Professional Hockey Writers Association to the NHL player who best exemplifies qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and a dedication to hockey.