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Lemaire back for second stint behind Devils' bench

by Dan Rosen /
After resigning as coach following the 1997-98 season, the last place Jacques Lemaire thought he would be more than a decade later was on a conference call with reporters discussing his return to the Devils' bench.

But New Jersey President and GM Lou Lamoriello officially announced Monday that Lemaire is coming back for a second stint behind the bench, 11 seasons after the first one ended. Even Lemaire is a bit surprised that all roads have led back to the Garden State.

"I never thought one day I'd come back," Lemaire said during the conference call, "but the situation right now is perfect for me and we want to go on with it."

Lemaire, who spent the past nine years coaching the Minnesota Wild, is taking over a team that won a franchise-record 51 games under Brent Sutter this past season but bottomed out in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.

Lamoriello also announced Mario Tremblay, who was with Lemaire for his entire stay in Minnesota, will be coming on as an assistant, and that assistant Tommy Albelin and goalie coach Jacques Caron have been retained on the Devils' staff.

John MacLean, a Devils assistant since 2002, has been assigned to coach the Lowell Devils of the American Hockey League. Joining MacLean in Lowell will be Kevin Dean and goalie coach Chris Terreri.

Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens also will be taking a more active role within the organization, Lamoriello said.

"This is something that came about over a period of time and certainly came to a conclusion over the weekend," Lamoriello said. "I couldn't be more excited that Jacques will be taking over the reigns of our team."

Lemaire, who turns 64 in September, is back after guiding the Devils for five seasons, from 1993-98. He led the team to its first Stanley Cup in 1995 and remains the franchise's all-time leader in games coached (378) and wins (199). Overall, his record is 540-414-177, including 199-122-57 in his first term as Devils coach.

There was talk that Lemaire's resignation in Minnesota after eight seasons and 293 wins could be more of a retirement from the day-to-day coaching grind. But after watching the playoffs, Lemaire found he wasn't quite ready to step away just yet.

He isn't sure how much longer he will coach, but he admitted he plans on being in New Jersey for multiple seasons.

"I never did close the door on coaching, I just said that my time in Minnesota is over and it's time to go on and do something else," Lemaire said. "Then I watched, like many other coaches, the playoffs, and I guess I heard a lot of ex-coaches say often that it's really hard to get out of this because we love the game and it's exciting and it's fun. That's what I got watching the playoffs. I said, 'Well, I might go back,' and when Lou called me I was excited, especially that it's a great organization. There are great people working for the organization and it's going in the right direction."

Lemaire admitted his main reason for returning to New Jersey -- and behind the bench at all -- is because he feels he has a legitimate chance to win another Stanley Cup. He won it eight times as a player with the Montreal Canadiens, twice more while working in the Habs' front office and once as coach of the Devils in 1995.

However, Lemaire hasn't been back to the Final since then. He guided the Wild to the Western Conference Finals in 2003, but the Wild were swept by Anaheim -- which then lost the Stanley Cup Final to New Jersey.

"I had a great time here in New Jersey in the '90s," Lemaire said. "I've got great memories and I'll try to get some more."

It helps, of course, that he knows his boss very well.

"I like to work for a person that I know well, and I think I know Lou very well," Lemaire said. "I know how he works, what he wants, what he likes and what he dislikes."

Known mostly for his defensive system, including the infamous trap that helped the Devils win the Cup in 1995, Lemaire insists his coaching style won't stifle any of the offense the Devils produced under Sutter, who preferred a more aggressive forecheck.

Most notably, Zach Parise became an All-Star and a likely member of Team USA for the 2010 Olympics with his evolution as a goal scorer under Sutter. Parise has scored 77 goals in the past two seasons, including a career-best 45 in 2008-09.

"I know Parise a little bit from watching him in games, and he's a kid that works offensively and he works defensively," Lemaire said. "I'm not the coach that will stop any of the guys that do what they're good at and what they excel in."

While Parise might have to adjust slightly to Lemaire's ways, Brian Rolston is likely thrilled to be a Devil now.

Rolston had his three most productive NHL seasons under Lemaire in Minnesota from 2005-08, totaling 96 goals and 202 points while recording at least 30 goals in all three seasons.

He signed a four-year contract with the Devils prior to the 2008-09 season, but never quite got his footing under Sutter and was limited to only 15 goals and 17 assists in 64 games this past season. He also missed seven weeks with a high ankle sprain.

"Brian is a good shooter, a guy that stays in shape pretty well and he's a guy that has to be put in the right situation," Lemaire said. "I'm not saying Brent didn't do this because I thought he did a tremendous job with the team, but he's a guy that we have to stay close with him, talk to him and demand a little more. That's my intention."

Since Lamoriello first called him about the opening prior to the Entry Draft last month, Lemaire said he's been studying the Devils. He admits to watching a few game tapes from this past season and trying to discover some tendencies.

"What I see is a good offense, good skills," he said. "I see very mobile defensemen. They can bring the puck out of the zone well. I think it will be exciting to work with these people."

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