OctoPulse podcast: Lucas Raymond's Calder Trophy odds, John Bacon interview

Mark Falkner
The Detroit News

ON TODAY'S PODCAST: EPISODE 61

Ted Kulfan previews tonight's Red Wings-Capitals game and he takes a look at Lucas Raymond's chances of winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year. New York Times best-selling author John Bacon is the interview guest.

Here are highlights from episode 61 of OctoPulse, Taking the Pulse of the Red Wings' rebuild under GM Steve Yzerman in Year 3.

2:20: Ted Kulfan talks to Lucas Raymond about Sunday's hat trick

4:40: Runaway Calder Trophy candidate right now

8:15: John Bacon interview

22:40: Ted gives two thumbs up to "Let Them Lead"

25:10: Dylan Larkin on tonight's Anthony Mantha reunion

28:15: Filip Hronek returns after being benched for two games

Red Wings rookie Lucas Raymond celebrates his hat trick against the Blackhawks during the third period Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Chicago.

More on Bacon's No. 1-selling book 

For junior left-winger Scott "Scooter" McConnell, the rags-to-riches story of John Bacon's high school hockey team at Ann Arbor Huron began on the back porch of teammate Mike Henry's home in Ann Arbor.

It was the summer of 2000, and Bacon, a former Detroit News reporter from 1995-1999, New York Times best-selling author and a teacher at the University of Michigan, had just been named coach of the River Rats, his high school alma mater which went 0-22-3 in the previous season.

McConnell, now 37 years old and a public affairs adviser for cybersecurity and infrastructure at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. (he'll be at Wednesday's game between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena), met the new coach along with Henry and knew immediately things were going to be different.

He just didn't know how much.

Scott "Scooter" McConnell, right, hugs coach John Bacon at the awards banquet with the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats.

"From our first meeting and over the course of that first summer, it was pretty clear he was dedicated and cared a lot about us as students and people rather than just hockey players," McConnell said. "Aside from my parents (Mike and Shari McConnell), coach Bacon has had more influence on who I've become than anyone else that I've come across in my life."

Now a central figure in Bacon's No. 1-selling book in Michigan, "Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America's Worst High School Hockey Team," McConnell went 50 games in his four years at Huron without scoring a goal until his final shift as a senior in the final three seconds against Dexter with his team leading 5-0 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

"At first, I wasn't comfortable with the attention focused on me as opposed to the team," McConnell said. "But as time went on and I saw how excited the team was with every post I hit, I really wanted to score because I didn't want to let them down."

John Bacon leads the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats on a run up the steps at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

After the game and after Huron's time-honored tradition of celebrating with his teammates, who went from a winless team in 2019 to the best River Rats' team (16-9-2) since 1973, McConnell walked to the parking lot with Bacon.

"Scooter, you will never forget this night and neither will I," Bacon wrote.

"Coach, I want you to know," McConnell said in the book. "I'm not crying because I scored. I'm crying because it's over."

Bacon says that incident reinforces a quote from Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, the two-time Stanley Cup champion whose last season coaching at Lansing Catholic Central in 2001 was Bacon's first full year at Huron.

"He (Cooper) had a great line on this," said Bacon, who went 86 games without a goal during his playing days at Huron from 1979-1982. "He said, 'Bad teams, nobody leads. Good teams, coaches lead. Great teams, everybody leads.' 

"When you see Scooter feeling accountable not to me and not just for himself but to the entire team, to score a goal for all of them, that's how deeply embedded it was with those guys and that's why that team worked."

McConnell has read his coach's book from "cover to cover" and agrees with the three leadership principals: Create high expectations immediately, establish deep mutual trust and then help your people take over.

The Ann Arbor Huron River Rats are featured in John Bacon's book: "Let Them Lead: Unexpected Lessons in Leadership from America's Worst High School Hockey Team."

But he says it was the integrity theme which resonated with him throughout the book, which is being turned into a Hollywood script with Bacon and screenwriter Jim Burnstein, whose credits include "D3: The Mighty Ducks."

"He would have zero tolerance for cutting corners or doing anything against the spirit of the rules of the game," said McConnell, who was born and raised in Ann Arbor and earned a political science degree from the University of Michigan and a law degree from George Washington University. "He instilled the concept of do everything you can to work your hardest but within the bounds of having integrity."

By trusting the players to lead themselves, rewarding even the smallest of achievements and not cutting anyone from the original winless team, the River Rats posted the school's best record in Bacon's third season behind the bench at 17-4-5, which ranked fourth in the state and 53rd in the nation.

"We never wanted to be a win-at-all-costs program," said the 57-year-old Bacon, whose teams were consistently among the least penalized teams in the Michigan Metro League. "We wanted to be a program that even if we lost, we earned the respect of the opponents. More importantly, we had our own self-respect at all times.

John Bacon

"There were rules that we followed that we knew other teams weren't always following, like recruiting. If a guy had skipped (class) in the morning, he's not allowed to play at night even though no one is aware of that fact."

One rule which McConnell says contributed to the team's success on and off the ice was Bacon's "hard and fast rule about dealing with parents."

"He was happy to talk to parents about anything except playing time," McConnell said. "That was off limits. That was a decision to be made by the coaches. It was never going to end well if everyone got to go in and negotiate playing time for their sons.

"The broader point was he got our buy-in early to the system and processes. We were already on-board. He did a great job of communicating his expectations for us and that minimized the number of complaints when people went home."

In fact, Bacon said he only got two "nasty" emails from the parents of the 54 players he coached during his time at Ann Arbor Huron.

"I told the parents, 'Look, this is a competitive high school hockey team but if you're wearing green (the jerseys were green with gold trim), we're going to get you in,'" Bacon said. "Parents like Scott's parents let their sons walk away with a great experience. 

"Scott didn't get everything he wanted and neither did our star players. The line on the team was, like the Rolling Stones' song: 'You can't always get what but if you try some time you'll get what you need.'"

When Bacon goes on book-tour stops and speaks at corporate events with companies like Ford, Chrysler and Subaru, he said he often gets asked to tell Scooter's story and he gets "choked up every time."

"Some things touch your heart and that thing got all the way in there," Bacon said. "Keep in mind, one reason it mattered to me too was unlike Scooter, I went 86 games in a Huron uniform and never scored a goal. 

"By proxy, he did it for me. No goal I would've scored could've ever made me feel half as good as the one that Scooter scored."

Bacon isn't surprised that many of his 54 players have gone on to leadership roles like the vice president of an engineering firm in Ann Arbor, the executive chef at the U of M's residential dining division, a junior high school social studies teacher in Trenton and the general manager at Uber Freight in Chicago.

John Bacon was the coach of the Ann Arbor Huron River Rats for three years.

Mike Henry, whose back porch was the site of McConnell's first meeting with coach Bacon, is now the general manager of USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth.

As for McConnell, he is surprised and "excited" to see that people have found leadership lessons in the book and he hopes it can "be helpful to others."

"When we were living it 20 years ago, I never thought it would be in a book and that it would only be something we would share between the people in that locker room," said McConnell, who prefers to be called Scooter only by his teammates.

"It was fascinating to hear my teammates' perspective at the time and how this experience shaped their lives and shaped who they are today. For everyone, it was a little bit different. He helped show me that through hard work and demanding more you can actually do more than you originally thought."

mfalkner@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @falkner