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Winds of change

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Not satisfied with his team’s performance to date, Pierre Gauthier shook things up once again.

Eight days after bringing in Tomas Kaberle from Carolina to help spark the Canadiens’ power play, the team’s general manager made another move on Saturday morning, relieving head coach Jacques Martin of his duties.

“This morning, I met with Mr. Jacques Martin and I thanked him for his services. And I actually really thanked him, because he deserves our respect for everything he’s done for this organization. This wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, personally or professionally,” began Gauthier in his mid-day press conference to introduce his new head coach. “Mr. Martin’s work ethic, his professionalism and his humility are impeccable. But we felt that given the current situation, [changing the coach] was the best thing for the organization.”

Outside looking in at a playoff spot and sitting last place in the northeast division with just 33 points in 32 games, Gauthier knew something had to be done. After informing Martin of his decision early Saturday morning, he met with Randy Cunneyworth to share the news. When Cunneyworth steps behind the bench on Saturday night, he will become the 30th head coach in Canadiens history.

“Let me start off by saying how proud I am to have been offered this job,” shared Cunneyworth, who joined the Habs as an assistant coach on July 22. “In accepting, I know it’s a very exciting time and I know the task ahead is one that I’ll have plenty of help with the great staff we have here. More than anything, it’s an honor to be chosen as the coach of this team. I go back to when I was first hired as an assistant coach and the excitement that I felt. I have mixed emotions this time around. There’s still the excitement, but my thoughts are with Jacques. As many of you know, we go back a long ways and I have the utmost respect for him and everything he does and the wealth of experience I’ve learned over my time with him.”

Hours away from puck drop against the Devils for the team’s last home game before hitting the road for six straight games, the message Cunneyworth delivered to his players was simple: play to your potential.

“The message will be to get back to doing the things the players are capable of,” explained Cunneyworth, who spent eight years as a head coach in the AHL, including his stint as the head coach in Hamilton last season. “We obviously have to figure out ways to get more out of our individual players. It’s the responsibility of the coaching staff, but it’s also the responsibility of the players themselves.”

Anyone who watched Cunneyworth play during his 15 NHL seasons can expect to see the exact same thing behind the Habs bench this year: someone who doesn’t take shortcuts and won’t accept half-assed efforts.

“If I look back and self-evaluate to some degree, I would hope that my coaching style is similar to the way I played,” described the former forward, who captained the Senators under Martin from 1994 to 1998. “I felt for the most part, I competed very hard and hopefully I’ll coach very hard, too. It’s important that our team competes in all areas. It’s important that when this team has the puck, everyone is involved and we’re utilizing our assets. One of our biggest assets is our speed. We’re not a big team, but we’re a team that can move and move the puck well.”

Cunneyworth will do his part to improve his team’s play and he expects the same from each of his players.

“Their job as players is to go out and do the job and the responsibilities they’ve been given,” he underlined. “They’re also here because they’re part of a team and they possess skills that can help us as a group. They have to be accountable and we have to do our best to make them accountable. What they do on the ice is paramount to me. They have to do the job and go out and compete and show a willingness to put their bodies in harm’s way. That’s what they get paid to do.”

Willing to stop at nothing to push the Canadiens towards a playoff berth this year, Cunneyworth will also be putting in overtime in the coming months to learn the local language.

“I know this marketplace and our fans. I will do my best to continue to learn French,” promised Cunneyworth. “I am a Canadian – I’m from Toronto so I grew up taking some French in school. Being exposed for a length of time will help me improve and I have the utmost respect for the language here and I’m very aware of how important it is to try and learn the language.”

Cunneyworth will be joined behind the bench by new assistant coach Larry Carriere, who has been serving as the team’s assistant general manager for the past two years.

“Mr. Carriere is a person who brings a wealth of experience,” explained Gauthier of Carriere, who will be making his coaching debut with the Habs. “He knows the organization very well and he knows the league very well. It’s important for us to have a person like that in our coaching staff and he and Mr. Cunneyworth know each other well from spending six years together in the Sabres organization. He’s a very positive person and I think he’ll bring a lot of experience to the table.”

Alexandre Harvey is a writer for Translated by Shauna Denis.

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