Comets Tales: Travis Green Steers the Ship
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Mar 1, 2016
This year an extraordinary transformation continues at The AUD. Now in his third season as coach of the Utica Comets, Travis Green has witnessed both the franchise and the players grow.
Prior to every Comets' radio broadcast this season, fans can hear these words: "...Three seconds to go… The Utica Comets are Western Conference Champions!”
Team broadcaster Brendan Burke reminds the listening audience just how rewarding the 2014-15 season was.
Following the inaugural season, Utica came within two games of winning the Calder Cup, and the American Hockey League took notice. At the rudder and steering the ship is Travis Green, who has been tasked with shaping young men's lives and continuing to develop these young players.
Aside from watching Green direct his Comets from the bench on game nights, little is known of the third year coach. Coaches traditionally are in the shadows behind the players skating up and down the ice. After all, coaches tend not to be the ones making headlines.
Green does an admirable job upholding traditions. 30 years immersed in organized hockey has given Green ample time to perfect his poker face.
Since the inception of the Comets, Green has experienced every transaction that a roster could undergo. He has been the bearer of good news and bad; he has seen the joy of a young player learn that his dream of playing in the show has come true; he has had the privilege of telling him that he is going to the NHL for the very first time. Green has also had the unfortunate job of being the bearer of bad news, too. When a player is released from his contract or is being reassigned within the organization, Green is at the forefront of delivering that heavy news. It comes with the territory.
Watching the coach at work, even from afar, anyone could piece together Green’s traits and nuances and see that the final product tells a compelling story.
At 10 a.m. practice on a sunny morning, Green is holding court at center ice of The AUD. For the next 50 minutes, there will be no wandering in Green's leadership. His whistle blows often, his eyes remain affixed on those following his directions and his voice carries throughout the empty AUD to players listening tentatively.
Green keeps himself constantly on the go. Green, having played 970 games in the NHL, skates about, looking over his troops, while pucks ricochet off the boards. He has made it a habit, keeping himself busy at the first sight of ice. With no sidelines and no dugout to make his point from, Green is very much physically involved in the workout, along with his two assistant coaches, Nolan Baumgertner and Paul Jerrard.
"I thought we were really good at the end of last season," says Green. "It's our job (as coaches) to develop players, and win games."
Green remains humble and polite when he says that the Comets were good last season. Everyone involved did their jobs, and then some. The Comets registered a 47-20-7-2 record during the regular season, and met the Manchester Monarchs in the Calder Cup Finals.
In less than two full seasons at the Comets’ helm, Green had coached the Western Conference All-Stars at The AUD and has created a hockey powerhouse.
The previous season, the inaugural one, Utica finished third in the North Division, tenth in the conference, and 20th overall in the league. The Comets rounded out the inaugural seasons with a record of 35-32-5-4. They finished with 79 points.
Fast forward to last season - 103 points is the final tally, a remarkable turn-around by all involved.
"I'm trying to establish a culture and develop a team. It's the players who have to be willing to buy in and adjust," Green said. "It's hard. I want to see the team get better."
Early on in the practice, rookie defenseman Jordan Subban has Green's undivided attention. With his stick aimed straight at the Canucks' prospect, the coach directs Subban to skate towards what would be the opposing team’s net. With Green shouting across the rink, while still maintaining a solid grip on the whistle in his mouth, Subban follows orders.
Throughout the workout, Green's hands remain busy. Like a traffic cop at a busy city intersection, players and his assistants are signaled where to go. All are witness to a man in charge - knowing full well what he expects of them and how to execute his plans.
However, this third year proves to be a different season for Green. Heading into the break for the All-Star Classic, Utica donned a record of 19-17-3-3, and is on pace to outnumber their transactions totals from a year ago. Where Green separates himself from other coaches is in his ability to keep his team together as a cohesive unit, despite being victim to the nuisances of a developmental league. Winning regularly is where the good coaches are separated from the average ones.
Being in charge of young men's professional lives – and subsequently their personal ones – is a responsibility that Green does not take lightly. "You have to be really honest with them," Green stated.
One would think that with all of his experience in the game – both as player and coach – Green would be rock solid in his confidence to lead the Comets. But, like anyone who has played the game, Green may second-guess his own game time decisions.
"Oh, lots of times... I would doubt some things (I said or did)," Green explained. "During my first year (in Utica), I did it without thinking. I just wanted to be my own person."
Developing amateurs and professionals at young ages has become Green's specialty. During the 2012-13 WHL season, Green took over the Portland Winterhawks after head coach and general manager Mike Johnston was suspended by the league.
After jumping in as interim head coach from his previous position as assistant coach, Green lead the team to a 37-8-0-2 record. In those final 47 games of the season, the Hawks’ improved tremendously, and ultimately advanced the WHL championship. Green had steered Portland to the Memorial Cup Finals, where they ultimately fell to the Jonathan Drouin-led Halifax Mooseheads.
Half way through practice, Green continues to keep his players busy. Each drill is explained with direct intent and a purpose.
Players seem winded after practicing each drill at game-speed. Green retrieves pucks, positions players and, at times, even beats some to center ice. This is a coach very involved in what he preaches. Memories and standards are being locked into the Comets for life as he builds a winning culture.
No time is wasted.
As Baumgartner passes puck after puck to forwards, Green's eyes can easily be seen transferring from puck to shooter. Brendan Gaunce takes a one-timer on goaltender Joe Cannata. Green initiates a fast whistle. All skates come to an abrupt stop. Heads twist in Green's direction.
Turning directions and his attention on ice, Green skates down to the opposite end of the rink. Positioned at the half wall, Green initiates a passing drill. He shouts encouragement for his players to complete the drill.
"It has been a good time," Green notes about his joining the Utica community. "I've made lots of friends. The atmosphere and passion here is incredible."
The passion Green speaks with has not come without sacrifice.
Green takes his work incredibly serious. It would not be a stretch to say that coaching the Comets is all-consuming for the third-year coach. In season, Green is flying solo from his family. Travis' wife Sheree, and his three children – daughter, Jordyn, and two sons, Blake and Brody – visit Utica, but remain thousands of miles away during the season in their Southern California home.
If his family did relocate to Utica for the season, it would be a given that Green would not eye-ball family members much. In explaining his routine as coach of the Comets, it's easy to understand why.
"I usually go home (after practice) for lunch, make a few phone calls, then I'm back at The AUD by about 4:30,” tells Green. “I go over things, have a workout, then dinner. I stay up late. My mind never shuts off. As a coach, I’m always thinking about the game."
Then, there is catching up on texts, communicating late into the night with his staff. "We get along well", Green says of his staff, a group of people who adhere to the same goals and ideals as he does.
At 11:20am, 50 minutes into practice, a stream of sunlight steadily begins to creep into The AUD and onto the ice through the Zamboni entrance. Green bellows out a most welcomed whistle for the last time today to his Comets. They all take a knee in front of their bench and final instructions are issued on what is expected of them for their upcoming game.
As Green is among the last skaters off the ice, the coach looks tired, akin to some of his players – a clear and present portrayal of the fact that he expects no less from himself than he does from them.
All along, Travis Green remains a man in motion, from his hands to his words, in directing the Comets to success.