MONTREAL - The dressing room may not be exactly the way they remembered it, but the smiles on the faces of Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller were all too familiar, as the two former teammates made their Canadiens reunion official.
After suiting up together in both Montreal and Dallas, Carbonneau and Muller will once again be side-by-side, only this time behind the Canadiens' bench.
"I spoke to a lot of different people about this job, but it was like the more candidates I met with, the more it all kept coming back to Kirk," admitted new Canadiens head coach Carbonneau, who handpicked Muller to round out his staff. "Kirk was definitely at the top of my list from the start and I know what he is capable of and what he can bring to our team.
"We first talked about this a few months ago, and once I saw that Kirk was interested, everything just started to come together," added Carbonneau, who played with Muller for five seasons, including four years in Montreal. "We've been through a number of battles together and not many players can match Kirk's passion for the game."
Few conquests shared by Carbonneau and Muller can compare to their historic Stanley Cup run in the summer of 1993 that saw the Canadiens rattle off a league-record 10 straight overtime victories.
"I had such great times here in Montreal. I got the chance to play in a few different places during my career, but nothing measures up to my memories with the Canadiens," said Muller, who also played for the Devils, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Stars over the course of his 19-year NHL career. "This is such a great hockey town. My family and I just fell in love with this city the first time around. The standard of excellence and high expectations that exist here are all you can really ask for as a player or a coach, and I'm just excited to be back in Montreal."
While his appointment as assistant coach marks Muller's first coaching experience at the pro level, the 40-year-old is coming off a year as head coach in the Canadian university ranks with the Queen's Golden Gaels.
Kirk Muller and Guy Carbonneau spent five seasons together as teammates, including four years with the Canadiens.
"My year at Queen's made me realize that coaching was where I wanted to be," said Muller. "We had a great bunch of kids who were all eager to work hard and improve. I learned a lot and I think it was a perfect way for me to earn my stripes."
Muller also made it clear that he didn't accept his Queen's post with any NHL aspirations in mind.
"In this business, timing is everything. I wasn't looking for this type of job when I decided to give coaching a shot, but an opportunity like this doesn't come along everyday."
With direct links to everyone on the Canadiens' current staff, as well as Bob Gainey, Muller will be right at home at the Bell Centre.
"I got to know Bob really well in Dallas and [Doug Jarvis] coached me with the Stars so it's going to be great to work all together again," said Muller, who not only played with now fellow assistant coach Rollie Melanson, but was also acquired in the same transaction that brought them both to Montreal from New Jersey in 1991. "Looking back at all of the coaching staffs I got to play under in my career, their chemistry as a group was a huge part of their success. I think our team under Carbo really fits that mold."
Already aware of how much he missed Montreal since being traded during the 1994-95 season, Muller was still blown away when he took in a playoff game at the Bell Centre this year.
"It was tough because it was the last game of the series against Carolina, but feeling the atmosphere and the energy in the building that night reminded me of what hockey is all about in Montreal," said Muller. "That's why rejoining the Canadiens really feels like I'm coming back home."
Judging from the sight of a beaming Muller standing in the Canadiens dressing room proudly wearing his 1993 Stanley Cup ring, a part of him never left.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com