In his first year as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Alain Vigneault brought his team to the post-season, winning the first-round series in a dramatic seven-game series. He finished the regular season with a club-high 49 wins.
He, not only turned the team around in statistics and the standings, he brought in a new system that included accountability and hard work.
The always animated Vigneault is nominated for the Jack Adams coach of the year award, which will be handed out Thursday night and he stops to check in with Team 1040 before going to the Awards show. Listen
to the whole show.Are you on your way to Toronto or are you there?
No, I’m not there yet. I’m on my way to Three Rivers to pick up my lovely daughters and then we’re going to grab a plane later on in the day to Toronto. What do you think your most significant changes were this year?
I think as a coach, you have to prove every year [what you can do] and improve every year with the experience that you get and the people that you work with. When I started with the Habs, 1 was 36 years old, I just turned 46 a couple of weeks ago and I think the past experiences, you learn a lot from the people you work with [like] relationship skills, it’s not just coaching but you have to learn, you have to improve and that’s what I’ve done throughout these last eight or nine years. What does being a Coach of the Year candidate mean to you?
I’ve said this in the past and I think that the award reflects the work of an entire group, to the players who show an incredibly work ethic and passion, to the staff that I work with, to the coaches, to the training staff, to the management and ownership. Our relationship with Dave Nonis and Steve Tambellini and my coaching staff is a great one. The lines of communication are open, we share knowledge daily and I want their input, I want their feedback.
Most of the time, whether it be coaches or management, we always come to an agreement, I would say 90 percent of the time. The 10 percent where we all don’t agree, then the head coach has to make the final decision and some of those are based on experience and instinct and some other time, it’s just feeling. We have a great staff and great communication and I think that’s why this year we could get a step in the right direction and we need to take another step next year. Does it feel like work to you or do you just really have a great time doing what you do?
You’re right, I do have a lot of fun and again that goes to the experience factor. When I got a chance to coach the Montreal Canadiens, being francophone, I though that was the ideal job for myself but at that time I didn’t have the experience that I have now and I don’t think I truly enjoyed it, truly enjoy everything that goes with the job.
I always told myself, if ever I get a second opportunity, I was going to take my job seriously but try to have fun doing it and I do. I try to have fun with the staff and I try to have fun as much as you can have with the players because as we all know, a job is a lot of pressure, it’s about performance. At the same time, we’re very fortunate to be doing something that we all love, it’s just a game and I try to keep it as loose if it’s time to perform. Even behind the bench sometimes, there’s some funny situations and you just have to roll with it and that’s what I’ve tried to do and just accept an opportunity and I’m going to keep doing that. When you came to Vancouver, what did you perceive to be your biggest challenge?
In talking with Dave [Nonis] and Steve [Tambellini], we all had the same vision that we really wanted this group of players to improve their work ethic. They have felt that in the past the work ethic has slipped a little bit and any game that’s going to be successful in the NHL will have to have that work ethic. That’s one of the things that I’ve been able to do with all my teams in the past is we come to play and we come to play hard.
I think that’s probably why Dave gave me this second opportunity. He saw my work in Winnipeg, where some nights we were limited in talent because of all the call-ups and the injuries that we had. Our guys came to work and that’s what we wanted to do with the Canucks. I know it’s sometimes called more of a blue collared approach but our guys come to work, they lay it out on the line. Was it an easy sell to the players to believe in your system?
It was a really easy sell. I think all our players, especially the ones that have been with the Canucks a long time, were looking for direction. From Markus [Naslund], to Brendan [Morrison], to Mattias [Ohlund], Canucks players who have been there for a long time wanted the direction and then when you add to the mix Roberto Luongo
, who I think is a better person than he is a goaltender.
All he wants to do is to work hard, improve himself, very humble, there for his teammates, not afraid to tell a teammate, just like a daughter or son sometimes, when they’re getting steered off track, not being afraid to tell them, “this is what you need to do and you’ve got to it this way”. When I say that he’s a better person than he is a goaltender, I’m pretty sure anyone that’s been associated with him will probably tell you the same thing. Do you feel that all the players knew their role and felt like their role was important regardless what line or position they play?
I think that’s part of coaching and also part of coaching is whether you’re penciled in the first or second line but for some reason on that given night, you’re not performing to your best and some other guys are performing better that you have to play the guys that are performing better and to give them more ice time.
A lot of times that might ruffle some feathers but at the same time it’s you and your staff have expressed the fact that it’s a team game and we need to go with the guys that are playing their best. Players understand that you’re doing it for the benefit of the team and our guys this year, from the Twins to whoever you want to mention, except for maybe Roberto, when their game was off a little bit, I didn’t hesitate to play the guys that I thought are playing better.
They understood that I was doing that for the benefit of the team and that’s tribute to their character and their willingness to make Vancouver a championship team. I think we took a stride this year, it’s really hard to make the playoffs and we made the playoffs, we won a round and we have to work on getting better.
Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup and we got beat by the guys that won the Stanley Cup, hopefully we all learn from that from players, to coaches to management. We’re going to try to get better to win that Cup. How far do you feel the team needs to go before they go all the way?
I think we’ve got a bit of work to do. The games were tight and three games we went into overtime. Forget about the first game, where we were really really exhausted, the other four games, three of them went into overtime, [Anaheim] was a better team than we were, there’s no doubt of that in my mind and I don’t think there’s any doubt in our staff’s mind. We need to improve, we need to get a little grittier.
We saw how Anaheim did it, the way you score goals in playoffs, a lot of it has to with skill but it has do with skill wanting to go in the tough areas and the gritty areas. They’re all one goal games and a lot of those goals are bouncers and going to the front of the net and getting it tipped off. We know we have areas we need to improve.
Dave and Steve have both told me that for the first time in a long time, we’re going to be able to good young talented players in Manitoba this year. Hopefully in the near future they’ll be able to help our team win the ultimate prize. What will it be like for you if you do win the Jack Adams Thursday night?
It will be an emotional moment in the sense that I’m going to have my two daughters there with me and we all know that in this business once the season starts, our family and social life get put on hold.
I think that Lindy and Michel had great seasons with their team, all up for the award, and whether it be myself or any of those guys, just being mentioned I think is an honour for myself and should be really an honour for the Canucks organization because you don’t get nominated without great support from management, the coaches, the players, the ownership.
It’s something, if I do win, I’m going to share with anybody and if I don’t win, it is really an honour to have been nominated and the Canucks should be very proud. It’s an entire group effort.