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Milestone man

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
BROSSARD – Evolving as an NHL coach since the start of the 21st century, Michel Therrien no longer counts the days spent at the arena on the eve of his 600th game behind the bench – an impressive feat for a coach who broke into the league as a 37-year-old.

“When I first started, I had Doug Gilmour as a player on our roster, and he was older than me. If we still had a player who was older than me today, we’d be in trouble,” cracked Therrien, who at 50, admits that the nature of his trade has grown since his November 21, 2000 debut. “A coach’s job has changed a lot. You always need to adapt. It’s important to be proactive. When you first get started as a young coach, you want to establish yourself in the league. Coaches take a lot of pride in the number of years they spend in the NHL, and if you want to make your stay a long one, you need to be proactive in order to adjust to today’s athletes and systems.”

Over the course of his 10-season NHL head coaching career to date, Therrien has gained the kind of experience that only comes with time. What’s happened between his first and second stints in Montreal is water under the bridge for the veteran bench boss, who has also spent time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in addition to the AHL, and as a scout for the Minnesota Wild.

“Combining all of that experience, I was comfortable in my return to Montreal. I was ready for the new challenge,” underlined Therrien, who signed a four-year extension over the summer. “I feel good. I feel confident. I have the chance to work with incredible people here, both on and off the ice. It’s an amazing opportunity for any coach, and it’s one that I have.”

But for as much as he’s needed to adapt to new coaching techniques and best practices, the Habs’ head coach has also had to get used to something else entirely.

“When I first started, I had Doug Gilmour as a player on our roster, and he was older than me. If we still had a player who was older than me today, we’d be in trouble” - Michel Therrien
“When I began coaching in the NHL, it was rare to see 18- or 19-year-old players on a roster. Now it’s often the case. The league is getting younger and faster, which is making the game a lot more exciting,” offered Therrien, who currently counts 10 players on his roster aged 25 or younger. “As a coach, sometimes I need to take a step back when it comes to the kids, but I’m proud of all of them. I’ll always be proud to coach the Montreal Canadiens. That’s one thing that will never change.”

If Therrien is proud of his players, then the reverse is true as well, especially among the Habs’ young guns, like Brendan Gallager, who got his pro start under the Montreal-native.

“I owe him a lot. Since I arrived in Montreal, he’s always been an excellent teacher. You need to earn everything you get from him, but if you put the work in, he isn’t scared to give you playing time,” explained Gallagher, whose 2012-13 rookie season coincided with the start of Therrien’s second stint in Montreal. “As a player, you appreciate it. We all do. If you go out on the ice and show him that you really want it, he’ll reward you with the opportunity to prove it.”

With a reputation as a coach who gets the most out of his players, Therrien knows that sometimes just a bit of good, old fashioned coaching is all he needs to bring to the dressing room.

“He isn’t afraid to take his tone up a level when necessary. He knows his locker room well, and he knows when we need that extra intensity. It’s what you want as a player,” added Gallagher. “He’s a coach who understands his players and the dynamics of a dressing room. He’s very strong in that respect.”

As the only player on the Habs roster to have played for Therrien since the coach’s NHL debut, Andrei Markov admits that although Therrien may have changed over the years, some things have nevertheless managed to stay the same.

“He’s a winner. He wants to win, which is good for us,” acknowledged the Russian defenseman, who has played 274 games under his current coach. “He’s changed in that he’s become better with age. He understands that there’s always room for improvement, both as a coach and as a player, and he gives us a lot of confidence.”

With 600 games now under his belt, Michel Therrien doesn’t necessarily have a numerical milestone in mind to hit before he hangs up the whistle. His objective is much more tangible than that.

“When you begin your career, you want to make it last. You want to win Stanley Cups, so there are still a couple of things left that I’d like to accomplish. I came within two wins of a Cup in Pittsburgh,” recalled Therrien, whose Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007-08. “My ultimate goal will never change. I want to put all the pieces in place to eventually win a Stanley Cup.”

And there’s no place he’d rather win than in Montreal.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Steven Nechay.

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