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Playing, coach experiences could help Cunneyworth

Saturday, 12.17.2011 / 11:45 AM / NHL Insider

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Playing, coach experiences could help Cunneyworth
MONTREAL - Randy Cunneyworth spent 20 years as a player in the NHL building a reputation as a tough, grinding forward with great leadership abilities.

He says he coaches the exact same way.

"If I were to self-evaluate myself, I would say my coaching style is similar to the way I played," Cunneyworth said after being named the 27th head coach in Montreal Canadiens history Saturday morning. "I felt for the most part I played very hard, and I like to think I coach very hard. I compete."

Cunneyworth will have the interim tag, but general manager Pierre Gauthier said he will be in charge for the remainder of this season and a re-evaluation will be done in the offseason.  Cunneyworth has been a coach for 11 seasons, most of them as a head man in the American Hockey League.

He spent seven seasons at the helm of the Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabres minor league affiliate. He led the team to six playoff berths, two 100-point seasons and reached the conference finals in 2003-04.

Cunneyworth earned his first experience as a coach in the NHL during two seasons as an assistant with the Atlanta Thrashers before being named the head coach Montreal's AHL affiliate the Hamilton Bulldogs last season.

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He and his assistant in Hamilton, Randy Ladouceur, were named assistants to Jacques Martin prior to this season after the departure of Kirk Muller to pursue a head coaching opportunity with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL.

Now Cunneyworth gets his first opportunity to lead an NHL team, and he says his main priority with the Canadiens will be to accentuate what he sees as their greatest strength.

"I would like to use all of our assets, and one of our main assets is our speed," Cunneyworth said. "The players will have to be accountable, and we have to do our best to make them accountable. What they do on the ice is paramount to me, they have to go out on the ice and compete and be willing to put their bodies on the line."

Cunneyworth is said to rely heavily on the use of video to illustrate his points, and he said it is something that will be featured prominently in his teaching.

"I think it's a valuable tool, along with reinforcing the words," Cunneyworth said. "Even if we can learn something from another team or another player, that's what we'll do."

General manager Pierre Gauthier said he hopes Cunneyworth will provide a fresh message to the Canadiens players.
"The change in communication is a big step in changing the performance of the team," Gauthier said. "We hope that is going to be a key factor in the improvement of our team."

Cunneyworth played more than 800 games in the NHL, and Gauthier saw firsthand what kind of leader he was when he was when he was general manager of the Ottawa Senators while Cunneyworth served as team captain.

The Etobicoke, Ont., native made his debut in the League with the Buffalo Sabres in the early 1980s, but after 21 games spread across two seasons, Cunneyworth spent three more full campaigns in the American Hockey League. His first full-time chance in the NHL after a trade to Pittsburgh before the start of the 1985-86 season.

Cunneyworth had four strong seasons with the Penguins, including 35 goals and 74 points in 1987-88. After a trade to Winnipeg in the summer of 1989, Cunneyworth became a role player for four more teams - and a captain in Ottawa - before returning to Buffalo for the 1998-1999 season.

His final season as a player was a glimpse of his future - Cunneyworth also doubled as an assistant coach with Rochester in the AHL in 1999-00.

Now he is charged with salvaging the Canadiens season and leading them to a playoff berth. The Canadiens currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but they are only two points off the playoff pace.

"We have to demand better from each other," Cunneyworth said. "We have to do more as a team rather than trying to do things on our own."
Quote of the Day

It's really exciting. I'm pretty sure that when I play my first game I'm going to be emotional. To be back on the ice playing a game, being in game situations, with all the routines and rituals I do before games and during the game, I feel like I'm going to be emotional. I'm going to be really happy.

— Montreal Canadiens forward Tim Bozon on playing for the first time since his life-threaning illness