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Words of a mentor

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – While Michel Therrien was the target of many critics this past season, his mentor believes he’ll right the ship in Montreal.

When you’re the head coach of a hockey team, everyone seems to have an opinion on the decisions you make. Since the beginning of his coaching career behind the bench of the QMJHL’s Laval Titan 26 years ago, to his current stint with the Canadiens, that’s something Therrien has learned to cope with each and every day. He can always learn a little bit more about his profession, though. That’s why he’s often turned to one of his former coaches when he needs advice.

Jacques Lemaire and Michel Therrien (CHC - François Lacasse)

Back in the days when he was patrolling the blue line for the Longueuil Chevaliers in the early ‘80s, Therrien was being coached by Jacques Lemaire, who was enjoying his first head coaching job in North America after spending time in Switzerland. Even though they were only together for just one season on Montreal’s South Shore, that’s where Therrien began to internalize the lessons the former Canadiens forward was preaching. Since then, Lemaire’s teachings have helped the Habs’ bench boss lead his teams to 375 wins in the NHL.

While Therrien eventually became an opponent, Lemaire was always there for his former charge when he needed him. That’s why he was thrilled to see his protégé earn a second opportunity to coach in Montreal several years ago and have success in hockey’s hottest market, too.

“I think that Mike has done excellent work since his return with the team. He’s learned a lot since his first coaching job in the NHL. He’s solid behind the bench of the Canadiens,” said Lemaire, who claimed eight Stanley Cup titles as a player with the Canadiens and one as a coach with New Jersey in 1995. “Montreal is a very tough place to work for all coaches. You have to win at all costs. And, if you don’t, the critics are going to pile up, regardless of what you do.”

Even though Lemaire has been a little busier these days since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer as a special assignment coach, he still keeps an eye on the Canadiens during the season. Knowing that the last few months of the year were especially difficult for Therrien, the former head coach of the Canadiens, Devils and Minnesota Wild took the time to call him up amidst the club’s struggles. Lemaire expected to have to boost Therrien’s morale, but that wasn’t the case at all.

“At the start of the season, everything was looking great for him. But, when Carey [Price] got hurt, things changed. That’s why I called him at the end of the year. I heard a lot of rumors about him. When we spoke, he really surprised me with just how positive he was,” explained Lemaire, who sits 12th among head coaches in NHL history with 617 wins to his credit. “Coaches talk about a lot of things with their assistants and ask for their advice, but at the end of the day it’s the head coach who makes the final decisions. Mike is capable of weighing the pros and cons of things. But, if he didn’t have the right solution, he’s also capable of admitting it and trying new things. He’s open-minded. That’s an important quality for a coach.”

When Marc Bergevin recently confirmed that Therrien and his staff would be returning for the 2016-17 campaign, Lemaire wasn’t surprised. Having gotten to know Therrien over the years, the 71-year-old believes his former player is the right man for the job in Montreal and that he’ll figure out a way to lead his troops in the right direction. After all, Therrien is only one of four head coaches in Canadiens history to register more than 200 wins with the club. That’s something even a decorated coach like Lemaire didn’t manage to do.

“His best quality is that he’s great at leading players. Today, everyone knows the game and everyone knows what to do in every game situation. But, there’s still a way to get your message across and lead players,” concluded Lemaire. “I think he’s done excellent work in that regard.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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