MONTREAL - Monday's showdown with Dallas was not only a class reunion of sorts for the three former members of Stars management now behind the Canadiens bench, it was also a trip down memory lane for Mike Modano, who knows what playing for Bob Gainey is all about.
As a 20-year-old with only one NHL season under his belt, Modano began his tutelage under Gainey in the fall of 1990. A lot has changed since then; the Norris Division's Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars of the Pacific Division, while MC Hammer fell from the top of the charts to off the cultural radar. Gainey's impact and influence on the young sniper, however, endured.
"Any young player just coming into the NHL can learn a lot from a coach like Gainey," said Modano, who emerged as an NHL All-Star during his four-plus seasons under the watchful eye of the new Canadiens' bench boss. "Sure, he may be tough at times, but Bob knows what buttons to push and how to get the most out of a player. I'm living proof of that."
Despite Gainey's well-documented background as a defensive forward, Modano's two most explosive seasons came during Gainey's time behind the Stars' bench. The now 35-year-old exploded for back-to-back 93-point seasons in 1992-93 and 1993-94, with his only 50-goal season coming in the latter campaign.
"Bob's impact on my career was not only on the ice," explained Modano. "His professionalism and approach to the game really taught me how to be an NHLer, something which is so important to young players when they first make the jump to the NHL."
When asked what the Canadiens can expect from their new coach, Modano just shook his head and smiled.
"Meetings, plenty of meetings," he laughed. "One thing you can bet on is with Bob and [Doug Jarvis] back there, the Canadiens will always be prepared. Maybe even over-prepared, if that's possible. No stone is left unturned by Gainey when it comes to breaking down the opposition. The Canadiens will be ready for anything, that I can assure you."
Modano also knows a thing or two about Canadiens head-coach-in-training Guy Carbonneau, as the two centermen were teammates in Dallas from 1995 through 2000.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not at all surprised to see Carbo turn to coaching," admitted Modano. "He was always a student of the game, and was almost like a coach to us even when he was still playing. Like Bob, he's very methodical and his understanding of the game impressed me even back then. He was great to play with, and I'm sure the guys will love playing for him here in Montreal."
While no one expects whoopee cushions and other gags to pop up in the Canadiens dressing room with Gainey now at the helm, Modano did get to see all sides of the Hall-of-Famer during their time together.
"Don't get me wrong, Bob is a pretty serious and reserved guy, but he can surprise you every now and then," said Modano. "He definitely has a sense of humor. It may be a dry one, but he'll pull a fast one every once in a while when the guys are least expecting it. You'll see."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.