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Willie's way

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
The last place most people in Vancouver wanted to be on a day like yesterday, the first Sunday of summer, what with the sunny sun and all, was in a boardroom.

Willie Desjardins is not most people, in fact he became a quite important someone Monday morning when he was officially named head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Forget beachside or portside or poolside or outside at all, Desjardins was in Rogers Arena Sunday, side-by-side with his new co-workers, president Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning.

There are more important things to work on these days than a tan.

“It’s a big challenge and if I thought I had to do it by myself, it’d be overwhelming,” said Desjardins, the 18th coach in franchise history, who will meet the media during a press conference Monday at noon. “There’s lots of good people involved, we all have the same goal and when you know that, it’s not overwhelming, it’s exciting.”

Someone has to dethrone the Los Angeles Kings next season and with Desjardins’ hiring, Linden has finished assembling the decision-making brass that will hopefully make the Canucks that team.

Who is Willie? He isn’t a groundskeeper and can’t play country music, he doesn’t need to be freed and has never been to a chocolate factory. He’s a winner and has proven so at the World Junior Championships and in the Western Hockey League and American Hockey League; six days ago Desjardins coached the Texas Stars to a 2014 Calder Cup Championship.

Who is Willie? He’s the mustached man behind the return of hockey we can be damn proud of in Vancouver.

“I want us to play hard every night, I want us to play hard every shift,” Desjardins said Sunday. “Every time we play, we play to win; we go out, we’re looking for a way and maybe it has to be a little different every night, the opposition is different, but we’ll have an underlying theme that we’re here to play, we’re here to win and that’s how we’re going to approach every game.”

That attitude was exactly what got Desjardins hired.

The Canucks interviewed a number of candidates looking to fill their coaching vacancy, but they had to play the waiting game with Desjardins because of his run to and eventual Calder Cup win. That doesn’t mean Vancouver wasn’t watching. Both Stan Smyl, senior advisor to the GM, who was also present during meetings Sunday, and Lorne Henning, assistant GM, made separate trips to watch Desjardins’ Stars in action.

Smyl and Henning liked what they saw and Linden and Benning loved what they heard when they finally got the chance to talk with Desjardins.

“He was a really impressive interview, we liked what we saw and things came together very quickly,” said Linden. “Wherever Willie’s coached, he’s had tremendous buy-in from his players, whether it be in junior or at the American League level, guys want to play for him and that’s one of those intangibles that it’s hard to measure on a whiteboard, it’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about getting players to play hard.”

And with Desjardins’ hiring, 30 days after Benning was brought aboard, 75 days after Linden was handed the keys, the Canucks are managerially prepared for whatever comes next – namely the 2014 NHL Draft, Free Agency and Canucks Prospects Development Summer Camp.

This group is ready.

“One of my goals since coming onboard here was to create a real synergy between myself, the general manager and the head coach,” reiterated Linden. “With Jim Benning we have a guy with no ego who is super hardworking, he’s been at it a long time, lots of experience, and Willie fits right into that. You walk into a room with those guys and there are no titles, it’s just down to business.

“To create that situation within our hockey operations department will translate through our team and Willie is a real passionate guy, loves the game and real supportive of his players. It’s an exciting announcement, it’s a great day, his name has been talked about a lot in this market for a long time and we’re just thrilled we’re able to get him here.”

Because he’s thoroughly enjoyed every stop during his 29-year coaching career, which began as assistant coach at the University of Calgary in 1985, Desjardins stopped himself from saying becoming bench boss of the Canucks was a dream come true. That certainly doesn’t mean getting the call from Linden wasn’t incredible, however.

“Did I think this day would come? You really don’t sometimes, but it’s great that it did. You always want to coach at the best level and the NHL is the best level, so you want to see where you’re at and what you can do. That being said, it’s a new chapter and a new challenge and you can say whatever you want, you can say all the things, but that doesn’t mean anything, it’s what you do.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”

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