New Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, photographed last week in his Brossard office, hopes to be wearing these soon than later.
Pierre Obendrauf/The Gazette
Hockey Inside/Out’s Dave Stubbs sat for an hour last week with Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien to discuss the new bench boss’ plans for the coming season and to talk about how he arrived back in Montreal to lead the team he worshipped as a boy growing up in Montreal.
What follows is a story that pulls more from their conversation, the complete in-depth feature linked above.
Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had a simple question for defenceman Andrei Markov when they sat to talk on Sept. 5.
“I asked Andrei, ‘What’s happened to you the last 10 years?’ ” Therrien said with a laugh during a recent lengthy talk we had last week.
Of course, Markov was a Canadiens rookie the year Therrien arrived in the NHL. The coach was behind the Habs bench for 62 games in his own rookie 2000-01 NHL season, parachuted in from the AHL Quebec Citadelles in what was ultimately a vain bid to rescue a doomed campaign.
Markov, 22, played one more game for the Canadiens than Therrien coached that year.
Details of what the Russian rearguard told his new/old coach when they sat down in Therrien’s Brossard office were not available. But here’s what Therrien says of the defenceman who has missed a boatload of games the past three seasons after twice blowing out the same anterior cruciate ligament, requiring reconstructive surgery both times:
“We talked about Andrei’s life,” Therrien said, grinning. “I think he’s angry…”
The coach stopped to correct himself, but “angry” might also be part of the equation.
“No, I think he’s hungry about getting the chance to start the year with everyone. It’s been difficult the last few years with his injuries. It was a good thing he was able to play at the end of the year (Markov played a lucky 13 of his team’s final 14 games last season).
“So his workouts over the summer were totally different. He’s here, working out and in great shape. Andrei is one of the best defencemen in the league and getting the chance of having him at the beginning of the season is such a big plus for the team.”
Therrien is delighted to be reunited with Bouillon, as well. Frankie Boo has long been one of the coach’s favourites, the two men having a history that dates back to their days with Laval and Granby in the Quebec Major Junior league.
“I’m so proud that Francis will be part of our team,” Therrien said. “He’s going to be a great leader for our club. He’s in great shape and he’s such a great person.”
And then the coach cast a wider net.
“I believe the team has good leaders. We have a good one in our captain (Brian Gionta). It was a tough year for him last year due to his injuries, but there’s nothing you can do about that.
“A lot of guys have a lot of pride. I’ve always believed a hockey player has a lot of pride, he wants to make sure he’s going to perform, that he’s going to be in great shape and part of a winning team.
“I think that players, first of all, are excited, about opportunity they have to change things around, to change the perspective of what happened last year,” he added of the Canadiens’ last-place Eastern Conference finish.
“They’re excited about adding the character we did over the summer. We added Brandon Prust, Bouillon, and we’ve added Colby Armstrong (who played for Therrien in Pittsburgh for the latter half of 2005-06 through 2007-08).
“The players I’ve spoken with are excited about the character we’ve got. We’re getting a chance to make sure…”
The thought trailed off before Therrien began again:
“No, I don’t want to talk about last year. We need a fresh start but we need to make sure that we use last year as an experience and make sure that it won’t happen again.
“I’ve spoken to most of the players… some were not around the city when I arrived. I talked to Josh Gorges by phone, and we sat down yesterday (Sept. 5) for the first time to talk face to face.
“I coached Colby in Pittsburgh. There is always the trust. He played well for me. It was tough for him the last few years in Toronto but there’s a trust between coaches and players that’s important. I’m confident I’m going to bring his game to where it’s supposed to be and he’s got the confidence to bring his game where he wants. It was fun to sit with him yesterday. I hadn’t seen him for a few years.”
Therrien is delighted to have the “luxury,” as he calls it, of returning to the Canadiens family. After he yielded the coaching job here to Claude Julien in 2002-03, he went to work with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins themselves and did some scouting for the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s such a plus, knowing the Montreal market, knowing what to expect, knowing the team,” he said. “There’s no doubt I was paying attention, working in the media last year (as an analyst for RDS), watching a lot of the Canadiens games.
“Scouting for Minnesota for a year gave me a chance to evaluate the game with a different view. Sometimes, as a coach you’re like this,” Therrien said, blinkering his eyes with his hands. “As a coach, you’re concentrating so much on your players. But being a scout, you see the different systems, different players.
“The easiest thing to do in hockey is get rid of players. The toughest thing is to work with them. That’s the challenge. When you’re a scout, you learn it doesn’t mean the other players are better than what you have, so you have to work with the guys you’ve got.”
Therrien will be the most visible piece in the major reconstruction of the Canadiens’ front office this off-season. He’s practically dazzled by the work done by his boss, GM Marc Bergevin, and is eager to get his training camp in motion – whenever it happens, given the labour nightmare that lurks on the horizon.
“I’m so impressed with the work Marc did over the summer, the way he communicated over the summer, the way he’s shared all the information that needs to be shared, the teamwork he wants to bring,” Therrien said.
“We have the luxury to have a guy like Rick Dudley around us. He’s been a coach, a scout, an assistant GM, a GM – he’s got great experience and Rick is a guy who likes to share his experience. Having a guy like that in our group is a huge plus.
“The thing I can see with the group that Marc has put together is teamwork. We’re a team. You should have seen when we were going to dinner in Bromont,” he added of a recent brainstorming/strategy session of four days.
“Marc was there, Rick, Larry (Carrière) from management, those are team guys. All my assistant coaches – Gerry Gallant, Clément Jodoin, J.J. Daigneault. It’s been teamwork all the way.
“I think that’s what the players are going to realize: this is a team. It’s not only about one guy or two guys, this is a group that’s working together.”