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Max Pacioretty 'shocked' by Michel Therrien firing

Canadiens captain praises coach for helping him reach 'whole new level'

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty was on the phone with Michel Therrien on Tuesday afternoon just minutes after having heard the news, the captain of the Montreal Canadiens reaching out to the man who now was his former coach.

"It was pretty tough," Pacioretty said Wednesday from his home, catching up on a little rest during the Canadiens break in the schedule. "[Therrien] meant a lot to my development."

Pacioretty had a breakout season in 2011-12, his first full NHL season, scoring 33 goals with 32 assists in 79 games under coaches Jacques Martin and his mid-season replacement, Randy Cunneyworth.

Therrien was hired prior to the shortened 2012-13 season. In the next three full seasons, Pacioretty scored 39, 37 and 30 goals, and has a Montreal-leading 28 goals and 50 points in 58 games this season.

"We missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in my breakout year and I had so many holes in my game," he said. "I wasn't really playing with the pressure of being expected to be a top player on one of the top teams. Numbers-wise, my statistics might look almost the same the past few years, but [Therrien] took my game to a whole new level. Being named captain [in 2015-16], I'll always have a special memory of [Therrien] being my coach and helping me out a lot."

Video: NHL Tonight on the Canadiens hiring Claude Julien

Pacioretty learned of Therrien's firing through a blizzard of messages on his phone that awaited him after he awoke from a nap Tuesday.

"I was shocked," he said. "I went downstairs and just tried to wrap my head around it. [Therrien] was the first person I called after I heard he'd been let go. We really have a lot of respect for each other and I made sure I told him that. It was really nice of him, in a tough time for him, to say the same.

"It was a tough conversation to have. My teammates feel the same guilt I do over what's happened. But that this has come over the break has some benefit in that we can make sure that we think about it, think about what we did wrong to let the coach down before we come back fresh [for Friday practice], ready to work."

As of Wednesday afternoon, Pacioretty hadn't yet spoken with Julien, a man he doesn't know but whom he's heard a great deal. The captain has the opportunity this week to speak with players who have been on Julien's teams -- Canadiens goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber played under Julien as an assistant coach in for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 -- but he's in no hurry to do much scouting.

"I'd rather form my own opinion from the start," he said. "Everything that I've heard about Claude, and there's always a buzz about every player, every coach and every GM, has been good. I'd like to start with a fresh, open mind. I'm not sure when I'll talk to him. I'm sure he's very, very busy right now. I'm not sure if it will be before or on Friday, but I look forward to having a great relationship with him."

Pacioretty said it's a weird feeling he and his teammates have after Therrien's firing.

"You know we definitely feel responsible for it," he said. "I saw a bunch of the guys at the rink today. I'm expecting, as I've seen already, a business-like attitude where we know this is a wakeup call and we really have to bear down and find our game and find ways to win. I've already kind of seen that from the players I have talked to and that's what I'm expecting when we get back to work."

There's been no specific talk about Julien's personality or the style of coaching he'll bring to Montreal, the new coach expected to arrive here Thursday for his second tour of duty with the Canadiens.

"Our bigger concern is about everyone coming back with the right mindset and being ready to get to work," Pacioretty said. "We know Claude is a very respected coach and guys really enjoy playing for him. Now it's more this being the time to put on the work boots when we get back and dig ourselves out of this little hole that we've kind of put ourselves in."

Video: Renaud Lavoie on Montreal hiring Claude Julien

Pacioretty has heard the comparisons being drawn between last season and this season, the Canadiens getting off to a strong start each time only to hit a skid in the New Year.

"I don't feel it's the same at all," he said. "We had a ton of injuries last year and we actually played really well through them and picked up a lot of points. This year, we've had a compact schedule [because of the World Cup], playing so many games with so much travelling.

"Our slump wasn't that long calendar-wise but we were playing so many games, travelling so much. I've heard from a lot of the people who travel with us that even they're tired, and they're not putting on skates. We're not making excuses but it's easy to kind of lose a grip on things when we're playing that often and the schedule is that chaotic.

"It was horrible timing for us to lose our game. Just two weeks ago we were feeling so great about ourselves. It just shows how quickly things change, especially in a market like Montreal."

Pacioretty expects Friday's return to the ice to be high energy with Julien getting his first look at his new team, the Winnipeg Jets in town for a Saturday matinee.

Open to the public at the team's practice facility, Friday sessions are always popular with fans. This week will be even more so, given Julien's return to Montreal.

"And because it's at 4 o'clock, it's going to be even more chaotic than usual," Pacioretty said with a laugh. "It's after school."

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