It was the littlest things that ignited the biggest reactions.
The Hurricanes had turned their head coaching-duties over to Peter Laviolette after Paul Maurice had been dismissed in Dec. 2003, and the former Islanders coach came in hot for those final 52 games.
A 3-on-3 half-ice drill during practice one day wasn’t meeting Laviolette’s standards, and the Massachusetts native snapped, unleashing a jarring, profanity-laced tirade on the team.
“I think Lavy tried to put the hammer down,” Laviolette’s former Hurricanes captain and current Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour told The Post at the NHL Draft in Nashville at the end of June.
In practices and games, if a drill or a play wasn’t executed properly, Laviolette was overly brash when letting the team know, according to a former Canes player.
Every pass was expected to hit tape coming out of the defensive zone in transition. Every forward was to be in perfect position in the neutral zone.
It was a challenging situation for Laviolette to be stepping into.
Here was a Carolina team that was a little more than a year removed from a crushing Stanley Cup Finals loss and then endured a 30-point nosedive the next season.
Laviolette was eager to turn things around, but the then-39-year-old with only two years of experience as a head coach was misguided in his ways at first.
“And then we had the lockout the following year, so we didn’t play,” Brind’Amour said. “Then when we came back, it was a different Lavy. It was more like he is now. I think he just started to be himself.
“He wasn’t when he first got here. I thought he was really hard. I think he was trying to prove his point, right? And then he said, ‘No, no, I got to be me.’ And then we had a great year, you know, a lot of it was because he let the guys play and the guys loved playing for him. That’s how his reputation is.”
Laviolette did turn it around for the Hurricanes after the lockout, securing his and the organization’s only Cup in 2006.
Laviolette is now entering a pressure cooker of an NHL market in New York City to coach the Rangers, a club that is onto its third coach in the past four seasons and is itching to end its 29-year Stanley Cup drought.
This is arguably even more of a challenging situation for Laviolette to be stepping into than the one he took on in Carolina 20 years ago.
Coming into this Rangers locker room, which has been licking its wounds all summer after an exasperating first-round playoff loss to an up-and-coming Devils team, Laviolette will need to be unapologetically himself.
The guy who always had a deep respect for the Rangers and Madison Square Garden.
The guy who is a forever student of the game.
The guy who is a player’s coach.
Showing even a glimpse of the overzealous, young version of himself who showed up with the Hurricanes probably won’t resonate with this Rangers team.
But that was Laviolette 18 seasons ago. He has since coached three other NHL teams and appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals twice more with two different clubs (with the Flyers in 2010 and the Predators in 2017) since that first year in Carolina.
He’s learned a thing or two from his mistakes along the way.
The hard practices, emphasis on compete level and demand for heart are still a part of Laviolette’s DNA, but the Rangers are getting the most experienced version of one of the most established coaches in the NHL.
Laviolette’s playing career as a left-handed defenseman began at Westfield State College in Massachusetts in 1984.
He was there for two seasons before joining the International Hockey League’s Indianapolis Checkers, for whom he recorded 10 goals and 20 assists in 72 games. That led to a spot on the U.S. National Team.
“He was one of the biggest guys on our team,” legendary Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch told The Post of the 6-foot-2 Laviolette. “That was the role that they brought him in for. He wasn’t at a lot of the USA camps leading up to that. We didn’t play [Westfield State] if you were in Minnesota or Hockey East or any of these major college programs.
“I think at the beginning, unless you were around his age and played against him in Massachusetts, a lot of us didn’t know Pete when he first came.”
With so many offensive-minded, play-driving blueliners on the USA roster, Laviolette was the edgy stay-at-home defenseman. He played the role well while also collecting three goals and 22 assists for 25 points in 56 international games.
Team USA failed to medal at the 1988 Olympics in Canada, but Laviolette got a taste of international hockey competition and also got a head start on building friendships with a few of his future Rangers teammates in Leetch, Tony Granato and Mike Richter.
“He fit right in,” Leetch said. “He had his sarcastic comments, great personality. Just like a lot of those guys on that team.”
After the Olympics, some players went back to school, but a good portion of the young team had the opportunity to turn professional.
Laviolette already had moved on from college, so he — as well as Granato and Richter — went to the IHL and played for the Colorado Rangers, an affiliate of the New York Rangers.
Leetch, who made his NHL debut the same season he went to the Olympics, was the only one of the group who went straight to the Rangers. He had to go through all his NHL firsts without his buddies.
One by one, Granato, Richter and, eventually, Laviolette earned their call-ups. Leetch was able to help the trio get acclimated.
“Nervous like all of us when you make that next jump,” Leetch said of how Laviolette adjusted. “But, you know, we watch the NHL and we watch highlights in games when we’re on the road.
“Sometimes, it can be intimidating thinking about making that jump, even though you’re excited to get that opportunity. He was no different than anyone else; he was excited, big smile, but nervous.”
Laviolette, though, was only a Ranger for 12 games. He logged six penalty minutes and finished plus-two.
Laviolette bounced around the IHL and AHL for the final eight seasons of his playing career, competing in the playoffs in all but one year. He then hung up the skates and immediately picked up a whistle in 1997.
Laviolette is no Brind’Amour, a veteran of 1,484 NHL games, or Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who played in 709 NHL games, or ex-Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who logged 803 NHL games.
Perhaps that’s what made Laviolette’s acknowledgement of his first NHL experience in New York so endearing.
“I’ve never really thought about my 12 games much in the NHL,” he said during his introductory press conference on June 20. “I think about myself more as 11 years in the minor leagues and 25 years of coaching. That’s 36 years of hockey with just a small bit in the NHL.
“But this is where my NHL journey started, here in New York.So for me to be back here, for me to tell you that this means a lot to me, it won’t truly reflect how proud I am and how humbled I am to be given this chance to come back to the city of New York and be able to coach this team, the New York Rangers.”
Laviolette may not have been able to establish himself in hockey as a player, but he sure did it as a coach — and quickly.
After leading the East Coast Hockey League’s Wheeling Nailers to the third round of the playoffs in his first head coaching gig, Laviolette helped the AHL’s Providence Bruins win the Calder Cup the next year.
It took only one more season in the AHL before he got the call to serve as an assistant to Pat Burns on the Bruins coaching staff for the 2000-01 season.
Burns was dismissed eight games into the season following a 3-4-1 start, which led to the hiring of Mike Keenan, who had already coached five NHL teams and won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994. Laviolette remained on staff.
“He was a young, anxious coach who wanted to coach in the NHL,” Keenan recalled of his first impression of Laviolette. “I told him that he’d have to be patient, but he will make it. He’d get there eventually because I could see he had the skill set, and he certainly developed a winning pedigree in the American League as a coach, which is a big step for coaches.”
Fellow assistant Jacques Laperrière, a six-time Cup champion with the Canadiens, handled the defense, and Laviolette did most of his work with the forward group.
That Bruins team was riddled with injuries all season and eventually missed the playoffs after being on the wrong end of a tiebreaker. Though both Keenan and Laviolette were let go after that one season, it was clear to Keenan his ambitious assistant had the temperament of a head coach.
“He studied the game, he tried to understand the game,” said Keenan, who also recognized Laviolette’s knack for building relationships with players. “I could tell that he had a presence or demeanor or attitude that he was fairly confident. …
“I think he got anxious once in a while, and I’d say, ‘No, no, all of us had to spend some time and take the steps to get to the NHL.’”
Laviolette parlayed that lone season as an assistant under Burns and then Keenan to a series of jobs at the helm, beginning the next season with the Islanders, whom he twice led to the playoffs.
But it was his second head coaching gig in Carolina that really put Laviolette on the NHL map.
What’s more than winning the 2006 Stanley Cup, Laviolette pushed the Hurricanes the right way.
He had unique ways of bringing the team together, empowering each player and igniting a fire underneath the group as a whole.
Laviolette was the first Hurricanes coach to start the annual dad’s road trip, which is now a common event around the NHL: The fathers of players join the team on a scheduled road trip and participate in fun bonding activities.
One of the main things Brind’Amour learned from his five seasons playing under Laviolette was how to capture the moments and appreciate the journey of his career.
It’s not always just about the end product, Brind’Amour said, but how you got there.
“He came in at a time when the NHL was real strict on certain things,” Brind’Amour said. “Like you didn’t have your kids around the rink, you didn’t really know the coaches, didn’t have that relationship. [There was a] separation. And he cleared that up.
“I remember, I had older kids, they could come in, and he was happy to have them around. It meant a lot to me because I got my boys in there. It was a real family kind of atmosphere, which is something that I’ve really tried to incorporate with my team here.”
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Laviolette’s honest approach also resonated with the players.
To take on a Hurricanes team that came within three wins away of winning it all in 2002 and then plummeted to last place in the entire league the following year, it couldn’t have been easy to instill that belief again.
But that’s exactly what Laviolette had to do.
“It’s always about the players, but you have to have a guy at the helm to pull it all together, and he was able to do that,” Brind’Amour said. “The rest of my life, I’m going to be indebted to him for that. It was the greatest moment for me as a hockey player.”
The Rangers aren’t too far off from that arc.
Going from a riveting run to the conference finals in 2021-22, when they fell two wins short of a Stanley Cup Finals berth, to getting bounced in the first round in deflating fashion the next postseason, the Blueshirts need to get back on track.
They need direction, a source of inspiration and a good kick in the behind.
Laviolette has delivered exactly that before, but to be able to do it in the most prominent hockey market he’s ever coached in will be an entirely different task.
All of Laviolette’s past NHL experiences have seemingly prepared him for this ultimate challenge.
It’s been 17 years since he hoisted the Cup in Carolina.
It’s been 29 years since the Rangers last hoisted the Cup.
The missing piece may have just arrived on Broadway.
“I don’t like it, because we got to play against the Rangers,” Brind’Amour said with a smile. “They obviously have one of the most talented teams. What’s been missing? I don’t know what to tell you, but I think he’ll be able to get a lot of them.”