After a Hall of Fame playing career and a Stanley Cup championship as a coach, Jacques Lemaire
didn't need to burnish his credentials to establish his place in hockey history. But he reached another milestone by picking up his 600th career coaching win with New Jersey's 2-1 overtime victory in Toronto on Thursday night.
Lemaire is the eighth coach to reach 600 wins. He joins an impressive group that includes Scotty Bowman (1,244), Al Arbour
(782), Dick Irvin
Sr. (692), Pat Quinn
(684), Mike Keenan (672), Bryan Murray (620) and Ron Wilson (605).
Wilson, who was on the opposite bench for the Leafs on Thursday, picked up his 600th win on Jan. 11.
While Lemaire certainly recognizes the novelty of the accomplishment, he seemed unconcerned with the mark earlier this week. When told of the impending milestone Wednesday, Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record, "It would be OK, I guess. ... I don't know who is there. Who won -- I don't keep track of that."
That Lemaire is reaching the mark is all the more impressive considering the former Montreal Canadiens
great didn't expect to be coaching this season. After New Jersey got off to a rough start, Lemaire was brought in to replace John MacLean
33 games into the season. While the team's fortunes didn't turn around immediately, the Devils are 11-1-2 in their last 14 games and have slowly climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. While New Jersey is still a long shot to make the postseason, the Devils are no longer in the NHL cellar, where they spent most of this season.
Lemaire's coaching career started in 1983-84, when he took over behind the Montreal bench for the final 17 games of the season. After one more season behind the bench in Montreal, Lemaire opted for the front office until taking over as coach of the Devils in 1993. In his second season in New Jersey, Lemaire led the Devils to the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
He coached three more seasons in New Jersey before leaving the team and eventually taking over the expansion Minnesota Wild
, coaching the team for its first eight seasons. Lemaire returned to New Jersey last season, winning his fifth division title as a coach. While he spent more time in Minnesota, 259 of Lemaire's 600 wins have come with the Devils.
Despite Lemaire's reticence this week, he had a sense of humor about his longevity.
"I'm getting old, too," he said Wednesday. "You stick around and you never know what's going to happen. You've got to stick around a long time."
Lemaire's accomplishment is a rare one, but he and the other seven coaches in the 600-win club may be getting more company soon. Montreal coach Jacques Martin, who has 584 wins in his career, is also closing in on the mark and could pass it by the end of the season.