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Taking his rightful place

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Twenty-five years after beginning his coaching career in the QMJHL, Michel Therrien will forever be among Quebec’s Junior hockey legends.

Michel Therrien coached the Laval Titan in 1993-94 and 1994-95. (QMJHL Archives)

On Wednesday, Therrien was inducted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame in the builder category at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Montreal, joining Martin Brodeur, Martin Gelinas, Billy Campbell and Jean Rougeau, who was inducted posthumously in this year’s class as well.

“Being inducted in the QMJHL Hall of Fame is a big honour. I was surprised when I received the call. I was very honoured. I enjoyed some great times and I learned a lot in the QMJHL,” mentioned Therrien, who became the 24th person to be inducted into the builder category in League history. “I learned a lot from the Morrissette family. I got to know some extraordinary people. It’s a great League for young players. There’s definitely a competitive aspect because there are some players among the group who will eventually play in the NHL, but the majority of the guys learn from their time there and create bonds that will last their entire lives. That goes for players and coaches, too. Being a part of the QMJHL is a great learning experience.”

Following his playing career that included stops in Quebec City, Chicoutimi and Longueuil in the QMJHL and on into the American Hockey League, the International League and in Europe, Therrien returned to Quebec and eventually obtained a position as an assistant coach alongside Bob Hartley with the Laval Titan. Working on a full-time basis with Bell Canada at the same time, Therrien convinced Hartley and the Morrissette family, who owned the Titan, that he was the man for the job and the perfect candidate to take over the reins of the club in the future.

“Michel is a guy who had good family principles. For us, family was very important. We talked a lot about the Titan family and the Morrissette family. Those were basic principles that we were looking for. He demonstrated them. Michel also accepted the job as an assistant and he didn’t ask for a lot of money. I’m almost shy to say that he accepted the job with us for $150 a week,” cracked Jean-Claude Morrissette, who joined the Quebec League’s Hall of Fame ranks himself in 2013. “When Bob left, we initially gave the head coaching job to Jacques Laporte. It’s important to note that more than half of the team was Anglophone, and Michel didn’t speak any English. After 11 games in 1993-94, I called Michel and I said that we were going to teach him to speak English. He just had to come back and help us with our team.”

Under Therrien’s tutelage, the Titan won two consecutive regular season titles, advancing to the Finals each time. Laval came close to winning the Memorial Cup as the host team in 1993-94, losing out to the Kamloops Blazers in the Championship game.

Therrien led the Granby Predators to a Memorial Cup title in 1996, the first Memorial Cup win by a QMJHL team in 25 years. (La Voix de l'Est Archives)

A few weeks after winning the Ron Lapointe Trophy as Coach of the Year in 1994-95, he followed the Morrissette brothers to Granby with the goal of leading the Predators to glory. With a talented squad boasting the likes of Francis Bouillon, Therrien captured the President’s Cup and made Quebec Junior hockey history by guiding his club to a Memorial Cup title in Peterborough, besting the host Petes 4-0 in the Final. It is still considered as one of the most significant QMJHL victories in the annual tournament’s history.

“It had been 25 years since a club representing Quebec had won the Memorial Cup. The last time was back in 1971 with Guy Lafleur and the Quebec Remparts. It was practically mission impossible before that,” recalled Therrien about that incredible night on May 19, 1996. “The determination of the owners and the coaches played a big role in helping us achieve our ultimate objective. If we didn’t win the Cup, it would have been as if we had failed. That win erased the inferiority complex that Quebec clubs had when they got to the Memorial Cup.”

Over the course of his QMJHL career, which came to an end in 1996-97, Therrien had amassed 221 wins in 322 regular season and playoff games combined. He had a .707 lifetime winning percentage in the regular season, which ranked him third behind Gerard Gallant (.791) and Maurice Filion (.733). That’s not bad for someone who didn’t see himself as a career coach and who recently became just the fourth head coach in Canadiens history to win 200 games with the CH.

“In Junior, he was working 50-60 hours a week, but today in the NHL he’s working much longer weeks. He doesn’t have a choice. He has to watch video, meet with players and prepare for practices,” continued Morrissette, who is still very close with the man who helped bring a Memorial Cup title to Granby. “He’s been a coach for 25 years. He grew and learned from his mistakes. He’s like fine wine. He’s 51 years old now. He has 25 years of experience behind the bench, and it shows. I’m very proud of him.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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