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Northeast: Montreal tradition alive in Minnesota

by John McGourty
Minnesota Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough, coach Jacques Lemaire and assistant coach Mario Tremblay were part of the great Montreal Canadiens teams of the late 1970s. They had great players, a great general manager in Sam Pollock and a great coach in Scotty Bowman. They also had something else -- great attention to details.

Tremblay ended Sunday's Wild practice by lining up 35 pucks a foot apart between the red line and the blue line. He then had rookie Colton Gillies straddle the line of pucks and stickhandle between each puck, faster with each repetition. After 10 minutes, Gillies was gassed, but Tremblay then took the last 15 pucks and put them at a right-angle to the row. After that, he placed them in a horseshoe formation and invited Benoit Pouliot to join Gillies in the drill.

It's a good way to instill muscle memory.

"Not good puckhandlers?" Tremblay was asked.

"No, they're alright," Tremblay said. "Everyone can use the work."

It was reminiscent of Eddie Shore's practice torments in his heyday with the Springfield Indians, like hanging a rope from the rafters around the goalie's neck so he wouldn't go down to block shots.

"Where'd you learn that drill," Tremblay was asked.

"Claude Ruel, 1974," he replied.

Ruel had limited success as a player, but he was an important part of Pollock's player-development system and coached the Canadiens to the 1969 Stanley Cup. That was Lemaire's second season in the NHL and the first of his eight Stanley Cups.

The Canadiens missed the playoffs the next season and Ruel resigned midway through the following season. Al MacNeil took over, put Ken Dryden in net and they won the 1971 Stanley Cup. Internal squabbles led to Scotty Bowman being brought back to the Canadiens and the team won five more Stanley Cups in the 1970s.

It also led to something else.

"They promoted Claude to assistant coach and that was the beginning of assistant coaches in the NHL," Risebrough said. "The head coaching job became much more complicated in that era and assistant coaches were brought in to continue player development at the NHL level.

"Claude was a wonderful man who loved to coach and the players really responded to him. He played a big part in the development of players like Bob Gainey and so many more.

"Mario Tremblay is like that. He loves to coach and it's really a joy for him to work with the younger players. They really respond to him and they trust him. He's never critical. He's a teacher and he knows they're young and need help and that's what he likes to do."

No doubting Thomas -- Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas seems to always have the term "interim" hanging over his head. Thomas played with Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin at the University of Vermont, was an afterthought ninth-round pick in the 1994 Entry Draft and had to go to Finland to start his pro career. He had stints in the IHL and the AHL before getting a cup of coffee with the Bruins during the 2002-03 season.

The Bruins had Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft, traded for Tuukka Rask and signed Manny Fernandez to take over the job last season, but Thomas fights on. Not only has he outlasted rival goalies, he outlasted the IHL.

Thomas was brilliant in net Monday night in Edmonton in the Bruins' 1-0 overtime victory, a win enabled by Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay's good buddy Shawn Horcoff taking an overtime hooking penalty to set up Dennis Wideman's 4-on-3 power-play goal. Dwayne Roloson became the third NHL goaltender to record a shutout loss this season.

Through the years, Thomas hasn't taken that unwanted feeling  personally. Bruins fans haven't loved a goalie since Gerry Cheevers hung them up. OK, maybe the pairing of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin that got them to Stanley Cup Final in 1988 and 1990. But say "Moog" in Boston and the response is "Petr Klima." Klima, benched by Oilers coach John Muckler in the first game of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final for habitual laziness, didn't get another shift until the second overtime and then beat Moog for a goal that set the tone for the Oilers' five-game victory.

Schenn staying -- Luke Schenn earned a split-decision with veteran tough guy Chris Neil of the Senators, the other night, but that's not why the Maple Leafs announced Schenn would stay in Toronto the remainder of the season, rather than return to his junior club, the Kelowna Rockets.

The kid can play.

"I said if he was one of the top four defensemen on our team he would play. He’s easily in the top four. We played in Detroit, he was one of the best players on the ice. We played Anaheim in here, he was one of our best players. He’s been our best defenseman, defensively, in almost every game. That’s good enough for me."
-- Leafs coach Ron Wilson on the play of rookie Luke Schenn

"I said if he was one of the top four defensemen on our team he would play," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "He’s easily in the top four. We played in Detroit, he was one of the best players on the ice. We played Anaheim in here, he was one of our best players. He’s been our best defenseman, defensively, in almost every game. That’s good enough for me."

Lee in the mix -- Throughout the summer, whenever the conversation turned to which young player might win the 2009 Calder Trophy, the names most often mentioned were the Lightning's Steven Stamkos, the Maple Leafs' Luke Schenn, the Islanders' Kyle Okposo, and the Kings' Drew Doughty.

Another name for the mix was the Senators' Brian Lee, an offensive defenseman and former Minnesota "Mr. Hockey" who went ninth in the 2005 Entry Draft.

The Senators have parted company with three offensive defensemen since midseason last year. Joe Corvo was traded to Carolina, Wade Redden signed with the Rangers and Andrej Meszaros was traded to the Lightning.

Lee is gone too, sent back to AHL Binghamton last week. Lee, 21, had 2 assists and a plus-1 rating in 5 games with Ottawa, but averaged only 13 minutes a game. He played the final 6 games of last season in Ottawa after posting 3 goals and 22 assists in 55 games with Binghamton.

Lee worked hard this summer with fellow Moorhead, Minn., product Mark Cullen, but hasn't fully grown into a man's body. Perhaps the clue was that he had only 51 penalty minutes last year. You can't be an effective defender in the NHL if no one is afraid of you.

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg is as hard-nosed as they come and Lee is dedicated to hockey. The prediction here is that Lee will get the message.
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