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Jacques Lemaire answers your questions

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils
Lemaire coached the Devils from 1993-94 to 1997-98.

email – You asked and Jacques Lemaire answered.

We received nearly 300 questions from fans inquiring about everything from why he decided to return as Devils head coach, to what he expects his team to accomplish this season.

It's been a busy off-season for Lemaire. It was announced on July 13 that he would be coming back to New Jersey following eight seasons as head coach of the Minnesota Wild. Joining him was Mario Tremblay, who served under Lemaire as an assistant coach with the Wild.

That decision followed a June announcement in which Lemaire was named as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

With Devils training camp set to open next month, the coach that guided Jersey's Team to its first Stanley Cup in 1995 took the time to respond to the fans:

Why did you decide to come back to coach the Devils?
Franklin, N.J.

Jacques Lemaire: First of all, I wasn’t done with coaching. During the season last year, I wanted to do at least another year because I felt pretty good. My health was good, and I was excited to coach. I wanted to go ahead and keep going. I felt that in Minnesota it was time to go. When Lou approached me, I thought it was a good situation for me. I knew the organization, I had a great time when I coached the five years here in the 90s. I know the area, and I think it’s one of the top organizations in the NHL so I’m proud to be part of it.

Could you explain how you want the team to play this season and what the fans should look for on the ice?
Union, N.J.

Lemaire: Everyone is saying that I’m really a defensively-focused coach, but I was looking at the Devils last year and I thought they were playing more defense than we were (in Minnesota). To win, and everyone knows this, you need solid defense. You need to be good in your own zone, and if you look at all the good teams – the teams that win – they play well in their own end, and that’s key. Secondly, you need some offense. We’re always working on offense, and every coach is trying to find ways, trying all kinds of drills with the players so they turn out to be better offensively. This is what we, as coaches, do a lot. Every practice we do drills to be better offensively; to be better going at the net; to be better at making plays in the offensive zone; to be better with our shots; to be better on the point at getting the puck to the net. What you’ll see is a good, solid team that plays at both ends of the ice. I want to try to create as much speed as possible, and be as much of a transition team as possible. That’s what people will see this year.

With the signing of Chris Pronger and a few key acquisitions to the Flyers roster as well as the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in our division, how do you feel the Devils will stack up in the Atlantic?

Harding Township, N.J.

Lemaire: I think we’ll do well. There’s a lot of teams that will start the season feeling that they have certain guys and will look stronger on paper. But it’s always the chemistry that counts. I think New Jersey has excellent chemistry on the team that we have right now. I really believe that we’ll be competitive even though you’ve got the Flyers, the Rangers, all these teams – the Penguins – that are good teams. But I feel that we can compete with them.

As head coach, what is your job during the offseason to prepare your team to play at its best?
Woodbridge, N.J.

Lemaire: There’s a couple of things here. If you know the players and you coached them the previous year, you know where you’re going. But if you’re in the situation that I’m in right now where I’m going to go to a team with only a few guys that I’ve coached, then it’s a little different. There’s more work to be done. You try to get a good feel for the players, which I know is hard in the summer because you’re not with them. But by looking at tape, looking at games that they played, you get to know how they play and who they play with. You try to prepare yourself so that you’re ready when training camp starts, and then when the season starts, you’re ready to have the right people working together on the same line. As an example, defensemen that will play together. So it’s more work in that regard. I had to go to New Jersey this summer to look for a place to stay and to see the arena and the setup. The setup’s great, so I know there won’t be a problem there. It’s all little things like that that you have to prepare.

I was wondering if there was anything you learned in building a team from the bottom up in Minnesota that you can use here in your second stint with the Devils? 
Farmingdale, N.Y.

Lemaire: When you build a team from scratch, you have to work with good people. People that support each other and work in the same direction, and I feel we have exactly that in New Jersey. To win, it’s chemistry. This is an established team, and our veterans have to play at their best to be able to win. You can see that every time a team wins, you have the great players playing great. You can also have the unexpected player that comes out and does something really out of the ordinary: play a great playoff season, play a great series, get a great goal. These are the things that you need to be able to win.

Lemaire won eight Stanley Cups in 12 seasons as a Montreal Canadien from 1967-68 to 1978-79. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
What was your greatest moment as a player?
Deseronto, Ontario, Canada
Lemaire: A great moment… probably 1976, when we beat the Flyers in four. That’s got to be the one that stands out. We won the Cup and we beat them in four. That was something special for all the players, the organization, everyone.

How did Mario Tremblay come up with the nickname "Bionic Blueberry"?
Little Silver, N.J.

Lemaire: (Laughs) He comes from a region in Quebec where there’s a lot of blueberries. We started to call him “Blueberry” in french, which is “Bleuet.” After he started doing certain things – he was fighting and getting some goals and playing really good hockey – they started to call him “Bleuet Bionique” or “Bionic Blueberry.” That’s how he got it. Mario always says as a joke that in his town, the blueberries are so big that one berry can make a whole pie.

Lemaire and Tremblay were Montreal Canadiens teammates from 1974-75 to 1978-79.

What advice do you have for young players like me that want to play in the NHL or one of the minor hockey leagues?
East Brunswick, N.J.

Lemaire: When you’re really young, around 10 years old, and you’re playing hockey, you have to be playing because you love the game, it’s exciting for you, and you enjoy being a part of a team. You have to focus on that part only. Enjoy yourself, have fun, play the game and try to improve. When you get older, then you have to train. Training is one of the most important things. Work on your weaknesses, and that’s something that’s easy to do. For example, as soon as you know that your skating’s not up to par, then you work on it. There are coaches that can help you to improve any type of skills that you’re lacking. But the main thing is to enjoy the game. If you don’t love to be on the ice, it’ll be hard to make a career out of it. When you love the game and you love to be on the ice and you love to work hard, then you’re on the right track.

What is the difference when traveling from team to team as a coach? Do you coach every team the same way or is it different with different groups of players?
Toms River, NJ

Lemaire: Every coach is the same in that they have a view of the game and they understand the game a certain way. When they go to different teams, this is what they try to bring to the next team: what they believe in. As a coach, you believe in certain things. You believe, let’s say, that you need good offense. And certain practices that you do are based on offense. Other coaches will go on and say, “If I have an offensive team, then everything is offense. But if I don’t have the horses, then we’ll play better defensively.” I’m pretty much that type of coach. I look at the team, and if I see that we can go with more offense, then we’ll open up a little bit. If I see that we need to have a lot of respect for another team because it has a great offense, then you’re playing a different game because of who you’re playing against.

Which player on the present-day Devils team reminds you of one of your players from the 1994-95 Championship team?
Somerset, N.J.

Lemaire: Martin... I had Martin Brodeur and Rollie (Brian Rolston). These guys haven’t changed. They’re the same type of player. What’s most important is teamwork; how you’re going to get there. I’m looking at some of the guys we have right now, I think our defensemen are solid and we’ll get enough goals when it’s time. Rollie’s going to have a better year and there’s a lot of good players there. I’m excited.

Besides winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, what is your favorite memory from your previous time coaching in new jersey?
Budd Lake, N.J.

Lemaire: The memories are simple. It’s the people that I worked with that were great. The players, we had a great bunch of guys that wanted to win and worked hard to win. You look at the Martin Brodeur that was there at that time, and he’s still there with the career he’s been having. Our fans were dedicated. A good organization, good people to work with, good players, good characters, that’s what I remember.

How do you feel about being named assistant coach of Team Canada?
Englishtown, N.J.

Lemaire: It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve never been to the Olympics, even when I was at my prime. Now I can hardly run, and at 64 I’m going to the Olympics. It’s gotta be great, come on (laughs). But on the other hand, being part of a great group of coaches and having all the best players…  you’re looking at who you’re going to have in two weeks at Olympic training camp in Calgary, and all the guys that will be there and there’s a lot of players that could be there but won’t be because there’s only so many that can be invited. I’m going to look at all these top players, and hey, it’s going to be exciting having all the best players in Canada in front of you. Sending them out on the ice, it’s going to be a thrill.
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