Jim Rutherford of Penguins, Peter Laviolette of Predators back in Final
General manager, coach won championship together with Hurricanes in 2006by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH -- Peter Laviolette was an out-of-work coach spending time with his young family in 2003 when a life-altering phone call came from an NHL general manager.
"It's a funny story," Laviolette said Sunday. "I think it was around Thanksgiving and my daughter was maybe 3 or 4 at the time. She was playing Mr. Potato Head.
"I'm sitting there playing with her and I had no thoughts of hockey on my mind whatsoever, and I remember my wife coming up and giving me the phone and saying it was Jim Rutherford."
Rutherford and Laviolette will be on opposite sides in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, which opens with Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports, SN). Laviolette coaches the Nashville Predators; Rutherford is the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But they reached the top of the NHL mountain together, winning the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Their successful partnership started with that first phone call in 2003 when Rutherford, then the Hurricanes GM, was contemplating an in-season coaching change. He had been impressed by Laviolette's two seasons of coaching the New York Islanders, which resulted in back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and eventually hired Laviolette to replace Paul Maurice in December 2003.
But Rutherford first had to convince Laviolette it was not a prank phone call. They retold the story in separate interviews during 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day here on Sunday.
Video: The success of general managers Rutherford, Poile
"I didn't know him very well, but I watched him when he coached the Islanders and his Islander teams always played hard every game, made the playoffs," Rutherford said. "But it was the way they approached the game. He had those guys ready and played hard all the time. That's what really drew me at that time.
"It's actually a funny story. I was on [Long Island] when I was thinking about making a coaching change. I called him up and said, 'It's Jim Rutherford calling.'
"He said, 'No, who's playing this trick on me?' I said, 'No Peter, it's Jim Rutherford.' He said, 'C'mon, I know it's not Jim Rutherford.'
"I said, 'I'll tell you what. I said I'm staying at the (Long Island) Marriott. I want you to come have dinner with me tonight or lunch tomorrow. If somebody is playing a trick on you, you're going to pull up and nobody will be there. I'm going to tell you, I'll be there. That's how it started."
Laviolette confirmed he thought it was a prank.
"I remember my wife saying it was Jim Rutherford on the phone," he said. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, right,' as I'm sitting there playing Mr. Potato Head.
"I get on there and had a conversation with Jim. One thing led to another and we ended up talking on the phone, eventually meeting and eventually getting hired in Carolina. It was special what we built in Carolina and such a great experience for him, for me as well. Something surely I'll never forget."
Video: Comparing head coaches Laviolette and Sullivan
The Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final and Laviolette was runner-up in voting for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL's top coach.
"It was a big decision at that time and it worked out well," Rutherford said.
The Rutherford-Laviolette association in Carolina lasted until Dec. 3, 2008 when Laviolette was fired and replaced by Maurice.
Laviolette took the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and by reaching the Cup Final with the Predators, he joined Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman and Mike Keenan as the only coaches to get to the Final with three different teams.
If not for timing being slightly off, Laviolette and Rutherford could have been reunited in Pittsburgh; Rutherford told The Toronto Sun this week that he would have hired Laviolette in Pittsburgh had Laviolette been available when Rutherford was hired as Penguins GM on June 6, 2014.
But Laviolette was hired by the Predators that May. Predators GM David Poile said Rutherford was one of the people he called to ask about Laviolette before he made the hire.
Laviolette was philosophical about how it all worked out.
"The hockey road always takes you -- the wind blows in different directions -- and he ends up here in Pittsburgh and now I'm in Nashville and back on opposite sides," he said. "It shouldn't surprise anybody that Jim is here. He's incredible at what he does. I think it's his fourth time [in the Final] as a general manager, and that's impressive."