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Dramatic Debut

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL - Just one year later, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a single victory away from exacting their revenge on the Detroit Red Wings. For head coach Dan Bylsma, the triumph will also cement his spot in NHL history, where he can join a handful of rookie Habs bench bosses who also kick-started their careers with a parade.

Few first-time coaches have the ability to cap their inaugural season at the helm by hoisting the Stanley Cup.  Before a potential 14th on Friday, the feat has only been accomplished a baker’s dozen times in NHL history, the last four of which featured baby-faced leaders behind the Canadiens’ bench. 

While Bylsma prepares to attempt the exploit, he can look to Jean Perron, the most recent rookie to successfully guide his squad through a championship run, for inspiration.  In 1985-86, his first season in command, Perron saw a spark in the eyes of another rookie – goaltender Patrick Roy – and threw his confidence behind the future Hall of Famer all the way to the title game.  His gamble paid off and with Roy between the pipes, Montreal captured its 23rd Stanley Cup in franchise history that spring.

Watching the 2009 playoffs might feel like Groundhog Day for Al McNeil, who lived Bylsma’s dream debut almost three decades ago with the Canadiens. Just like the current Pens’ coach, McNeil wasn’t just a rookie when he took over the reins; he was also a replacement. Called in to right the ship midway through the 1970-71 season, when McNeil joined the Habs, the team was poised to miss out on a playoff berth for the second straight year.  Not only did the newly-minted bench boss guide his club to the dance but, riding on the shoulders of rookie netminder Ken Dryden, the team soared through the postseason to capture a 17th Stanley Cup.  

Before McNeil, Claude Ruel also got his first taste of success in his first year behind the bench.  Barely 30 years old at the time, the Quebec native led his team to the Promised Land, knocking off the St. Louis Blues to capture the title in the spring of 1969. 

Just eight years after hanging up his skates as the Habs’ captain, Toe Blake made his triumphant return to Montreal, cutting his teeth as the team’s 17th head coach.  In 1956, the rookie bench boss led the Canadiens to the first of an NHL-record five straight Stanley Cups.  During his illustrious coaching career with the bleu-blanc-rouge, the Hall of Famer guided his steed to an unprecedented eight Stanley Cup titles.   

Between 1918 and 1955, nine other head coaches have won the Cup in their first season in the league.  Bylsma would be the first to do so with the Penguins, while the Canadiens are the only franchise in the NHL to have added more than one coach to the exclusive list.

Shauna Denis is a writer for

See also
All the coaches in Canadiens' history
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