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Lemaire won't return as Devils coach

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- When told his decision to retire as New Jersey Devils coach might not only sadden fans and media personnel, but also his players, Jacques Lemaire smiled and looked right into the television camera.
"There are as many people (sad), who also want me happy," he said.
And therein is the reason why Lemaire, who came out of retirement to help salvage the Devils season on Dec. 23, decided to retire once again on Sunday evening. It appears to be official this time, however, following his team's season-concluding 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
Lemaire, who turns 66 on Sept. 7, said coaching today is certainly a demanding job and, at this stage in his life, he's simply set on enjoying time with his wife and grandchilden. Actually, those were the same reasons he gave for leaving the game at the conclusion of the 2009-10 campaign.
"This is exciting. Especially when the team wins, you love it," he said. "I said today when I talked to my wife, if I were younger I'd come back, because I love it. But hockey demands a lot. I want to enjoy life."
Lemaire was convinced by General Manager Lou Lamoriello to return behind the bench on Dec. 23 at the time John MacLean was fired. The Devils were 9-22-2 at that point and sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference. After Lemaire took over, the club finished the season 29-17-3.
Though saddened by the decision, it really didn't take any of the Devils' players by surprise.
"He did a great job … we'll see, maybe he'll change his mind and come back next year," said a hopeful Ilya Kovalchuk. "We got word of his decision in a meeting before the game. He brought the team back and did a lot of good things for our organization. We have a team to make a run. He turned this thing around and the fans started coming back into the building and it was exciting."
Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur are two players on the team who played under Lemaire all three times he was behind the bench as Devils coach.
Before returning in December, his prior stint was last season, when he led the team to its ninth Atlantic Division championship while reaching the 100-point mark for the 12th time in 15 full seasons. He resigned following the team's five-game setback to the Philadelphia Flyers in the quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We played good hockey under him and he knows the game probably better than anyone," Elias said. "The guys have a respect for him but, on other hand, he's been around hockey for so long. He has to enjoy his life, too. We'll see what happens here. This team has potential … we figured that out in the second half, how we have to play to be successful.
"Jacques implemented a lot of things and we played better defensively. On the other hand, he allowed guys to be themselves. He allowed the playmakers to play and guys respected that. When you have a coach that trusts you, it goes a long way."
Brodeur, who was mired in one of his worst seasons as a professional before Lemaire returned, said the coach will be missed but also understands his situation.

"Jacques implemented a lot of things and we played better defensively. On the other hand, he allowed guys to be themselves. He allowed the playmakers to play and guys respected that. When you have a coach that trusts you, it goes a long way."
-- Devils forward Patrick Elias

"We were going in the wrong direction before Jacques took over, and he didn't want to come back for reasons last year but he did us a favor and we really appreciated that," Brodeur said. "We've learned a lot of what we could do, and hopefully we'll continue what Jacques started.
"He made us believe that we were able to win games. I think he made us work really hard and we went back to the basic hockey 101. We had long practices and there was attention to details. Things meshed together at one point and it clicked."
After losing his first four games and starting 1-6-0, Lemaire helped the Devils turn their season around. The club was 27 points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 9, but would eventually close the gap to as few as six just last month.
Lemaire has a 276-166-67 record as Devils coach and his career mark stands at 617-458-187. He won his 600th NHL game Feb. 10 at Toronto.
"I'm glad I took the job for the rest of the season, but the only regret is not making the playoffs," Lemaire said. "I've been retired twice, so it makes it easy. I'm glad I came back this year."
In his first season in New Jersey, goalie Johan Hedberg admitted to learning so much under Lemaire.
"I'm not terribly surprised," he told "It was a pleasure to get a chance to play for him. He's got tons of energy and tons of laughs. It was a joy, and I really learned a lot. I've seen different styles of coaching, leadership and motivational speakers, but I've never met a guy so bang-on on what to say to get the group going. When the group might be sliding, he always said the right things. He made me understand the little things about hockey. Sometimes I feel lost on systems but, because of Jacques, now I understand."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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