By Jeff Paterson
Aside from opening night, when he guided his Vancouver Canucks to a 3-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit, Alain Vigneault likely hasn't had as much personal motivation and anticipation leading into to hockey games than he will for the next two contests his team plays.
Raised in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa where the Canucks play on Thursday, Vigneault will have the chance to ply his trade in front of family and friends. Before then, however, Vigneault goes back to the only other city in which he's been a National Hockey League head coach and will work behind the visitor's bench when the Canucks face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Tuesday.
"Obviously, I've given it some thought, but we've had a bunch of games here recently, so I haven't really worried about it," the coach said prior to his team's departure on this four game road trip that will lead into the All-Star break.
Vigneault, as most Canuck fans are well aware, was just 36-years-old when he was hired to replace Mario Tremblay behind the Habs bench in 1997. In three-plus seasons on the job, he won 109 games, won a round in the playoffs, and was nominated for the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year in 1999-2000.
But in the volatile business of professional coaching, Vigneault's time in Montreal was up when the Canadiens began the following season with just five wins in their first 20 games. He was relieved of his duties as replaced by his assistant coach and good friend Michel Therrien, now the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Vigneault, the return to Montreal is bound to provide some personal motivation, but in no way does he harbour any sort of grudge against the Canadiens. And rather than worrying about any kind of vendetta or settling any kind of score when his new team meets his old one on Tuesday night, the coach is primarily excited to be back in La Belle Province for non-hockey related reasons.
"I'm happy. Today, I can do practice and my youngest (daughter) has a basketball game, so I'll be able to scoot and watch her play a little bit of basketball, so it should all work out," says the father of two who relishes the few opportunities he gets during the season to visit with his daughters who live with their mother in the Montreal area.
Another reason Alain Vigneault's excited about the first three games of this road trip which started with Saturday's 6-1 romp over the Leafs in Toronto is he understands that with the current scheduling set-up, all-Canadian East-West match-ups are rare in today's NHL. And it's a disappointment to Vigneault who recalls quite vividly the times he brought his Habs out this way.
"For myself and the players and our fans, being out east is a lot of fun. From a personal standpoint, I'm disappointed that our fans aren't getting to see the Canadiens and the Leafs. I remember coming through Vancouver with Montreal and GM Place was rocking," he says emphatically. "It was as intense and as great an atmosphere as you could ask for. And for our fans not to get that and for us as coaches and players not to get that, it's disappointing."
Vigneault's not the only one in the Canuck organization looking forward to Tuesday's showdown in Montreal. Roberto Luongo
was born and raised there, Alex Burrows was raised in nearby Pincourt, Quebec and grew up a big fan of the Habs. Marc Chouinard grew up in Quebec City and developed a healthy disdain for the Canadiens from a young age. And Jan Bulis (2001-2006), Trevor Linden (1999-2001) and Rory Fitzpatrick (1995-96) all spent time playing in a Canadiens uniform. Remember also at various points of the season the Canucks have had Luc Bourdon, Patrick Coulombe and Yannick Tremblay in the line-up giving the Canucks a remarkable French connection compared to recent years when Dan Cloutier was the lone francophone on the roster.
So while there are all sorts of links on this Vancouver hockey club to Montreal and to the Montreal Canadiens, perhaps the biggest reason the Canucks are excited about playing the Habs is the fact the Canucks are 8-0-1 in their last nine meetings. The Canucks have not lost to Montreal since November 30, 2000 and haven't lost in Montreal since November 27, 1999.
And you can bet on Tuesday night, they'll do all they can to extend those streaks and try to make it a happy homecoming for so many in the organization.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org