MONTREAL – Just as Canadiens prospects will be learning the ropes in Laval next year, Michel Therrien did exactly the same thing in the early ‘90s.
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When the Canadiens confirmed a few days ago that their AHL affiliate would set up shop on the North Shore of Montreal in 2017, it had many people feeling rather nostalgic.
That certainly was the case for Therrien, who prior to registering over 300 wins in the NHL, and ranking as the fourth-winningest coach in Canadiens franchise history in addition to being a Jack Adams Trophy finalist, made his coaching debut with the QMJHL’s Laval Titan.
“It’s special because that’s where I started working as a coach. I experienced Memorial Cup finals there. I have a strong attachment to the city of Laval. I live on the North Shore, so for me, personally, it’s special,” indicated Therrien, who was an assistant to Bob Hartley for two seasons with the Titan before taking the reins of the team himself in 1993-94. “I find it exciting for the fans in Laval who will have their own professional team. It’s also exciting for Canadiens fans who will have a chance to see our prospects in action. From both a hockey and a business standpoint, it’s excellent for us.”
The 52-year-old bench boss enjoyed plenty of success during his two years at the helm of the Laval-based squad. In addition to winning the President’s Cup in his first season as head coach, Therrien also strung together an impressive 91-39-3 record in 133 regular season games and had the opportunity to participate in the Memorial Cup in front of his own fans at the Colisee de Laval in 1994. Interestingly enough, it was during his time with the Titan that he got to know a few players that are still involved in the Canadiens organization today.
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“To have coached guys like Martin Lapointe and Francis Bouillon was very special. Those are guys who are still in the Canadiens organization, and every time I see them it brings back a lot of good memories,” said Therrien, who was inducted into the QMJHL Hall of Fame in April 2015. “The crowd was really good there. I especially remember Monday nights, when we were the only team playing in the QMJHL. We always had incredible crowd support in the playoffs. Our owners were also extraordinary people. The Morissette family was very involved in the community and we felt the support from everybody. They were all behind us.”
While the atmosphere in the Place Bell will undoubtedly be different – with a capacity of 10,000 spectators as opposed to just 3,500 at the Colisee – Therrien believes that the public will respond when the club officially begins playing in Laval in the fall of 2017. He insists that being able to see future Habs on a regular basis will draw many people out to the rink, along with Canadiens staffers, too.
“Whether it’s in Montreal or in Laval, I’m convinced that the atmosphere will be the same. There will definitely be a measure of curiosity at the start in terms of seeing what the American Hockey League is all about. They’ll be able to follow our prospects from up close. Our young players will also be able to slowly get used to the idea of playing in the Montreal market,” mentioned Therrien, who is on track to coach his 500th career game in Montreal in 2016-17. “As a coach, I’m going to have the chance to see our prospects play a lot more often. When the team was in Hamilton or even now in St. John’s, it was practically impossible for me to attend a game. We parted ways at training camp and then it was extremely difficult for me to follow their progress. Now, they’ll be in the area and I can attend games more often.”
A fan vote is actually underway to find a name for the future franchise and many suggestions have already been offered up. Knowing that the public will have the final say in the end, Therrien admits that he likes a few of the possible choices more than others.
“I’ve always liked the names Voisins or Titan. And, when the team was based in the Montreal area, I always appreciated the name – Junior Canadiens. It was a special name,” concluded Therrien, who doesn’t want to influence the vote. “Those aren’t my suggestions, but, in the end, you can’t forget that it’s up to the fans to choose a name.”Vincent Cauchy and Hugo Fontaine are writers for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.SEE ALSOLaval to welcome an American Hockey League team at Place Bell for the 2017-18 seasonA new neighbor Name the team contest