When Doug asked me if I would like to coach in Minnesota, the place I had in mind was a cold place. I thought, "I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go there
Every time I’d come here, it was so cold that I wanted to go back home. That parking lot at the old rink, walking across, I was frozen when I got to the arena.
When I came here, what really surprised me was how polite the people were, starting on the road, driving. It reflects on everyone in the state. I came from New Jersey, where they want to drive over you. The cabs there, it’s one foot on the gas, the other on the brake, and the hand on the horn. It was nice to see what I saw here.
The more I met people, the more I saw the place was like my home, Montreal. All the trees, the lakes, the fishing, the hunting, the hockey, all of this is what we do at home. I thought, "This place, it’s Montreal."
'Minnesota Nice,' that's what it is. The people, they are nice. They were nice to me. - Jaques Lemaire
When you move as a hockey player or a coach, you’re always worried you’ll be in a place where your adaptation will be hard on you and your family. My wife, though, she felt the same. She loved everything here.
The hockey team, well, when we started, I didn't know if we’d have a lot of people coming to our games. That was a question for me because the building was half full when the North Stars were here. And, with the team in St. Paul, I didn’t know if people would support it. That was my worry. I thought, "The people in Minneapolis, I don’t know if they will come here." I thought there might be jealousy or friction between the Cities.
And what happened? They supported us. It’s one big city. I was quite impressed to see the start of it. All the people. How excited they were. They were so excited. People wanted to support the team. The feeling was similar to what you get in a little Canadian city that gets a junior hockey team. Everyone tries to protect that team. They want it to do well. It was like that, but in a big city. The year went on and people kept coming. It was exciting.
Because my language was French, I didn’t know how the people here would perceive me. This theme again, acceptance. It’s not everywhere that you go and you’ll be accepted the way you are. And here they do accept people the way they are. Mike Ramsey told me a nice thing. Other people in the States, they say about this place “Minnesota Nice.” I say, “You know what. That’s what it is. The people are nice. They were nice to me."
The thing I was amazed with, Mario Tremblay, too, is when we played in Montreal, when we coached, people always were asking us questions. At lunch, people would step in and bring their beer and sit beside us. It was not because they were impolite. They just loved hockey so much and thought we were their brothers.
Here, the people are so meticulous. Mario and I talked about this so many times. They respect your life. We went often to Moose Country Restaurant in Lilydale. We call it “The Moose.” They know us there like we're part of the staff. After practices we'd go, have a little soup, a little sandwich, a couple beers. Lots of times Mike came, and Doug. People there, they picked their time to come over to us when we were not eating. They would say, "Hey, I don’t want to bother you, I just want to shake your hand." That meant a lot to us. It showed they appreciated us. They showed a lot of class.
For a person like me, it would have been hard to stay here so long if the people were not so nice.
Monday night, when I came home, I listened to the replay of my press conference. I was really happy. I said to my wife, "I think the people liked me more than I thought." I must have thought about that four times. It makes me feel really good.
These fans, they have to be as good as any fans anywhere. They have to be. What these fans need is more games like our last home game. Hey, if we don’t play hard, we’ll put anybody to sleep. Many nights, the fans tried to push the guys to do more.
What are my favorite memories? The night my grandson carried the flag was a great night. The playoffs, the first time in the playoffs, oh, the electricity that was in the place was amazing. As a player in Montreal in the playoffs, you could feel the electricity. The first playoffs here, I was worried that I wouldn’t get that excited. And I am telling you, I was as excited here as a coach as I was as a player in Montreal. The fans, they stood up at the start when we came out and they cheered and they cheered. It was great.
Now that I am leaving, I can look back a little. I am very happy with the foundation I will leave behind. The foundation is discipline, structure. I told the players in my last meeting with them, "I'll be watching." I always say that when I go somewhere else because you become close to the people. You want them to do well. I am always happy when I work with someone and then he plays really well and turns out to be a much better player.
Next week, I will be going with my wife to Florida to wait and see what the future brings. I don't know what it will be. I don't know if I'll coach. I'll see if anyone has anything to offer that I feel good about.
I know I can't retire and stay home. I'm not that type. I get bored. I'm always asking my wife to do things with me.
She says to me now, “You got me into this life in hockey, and now you want me to change?”
I laugh at that. I'll get up at 7, get a coffee, she's sleeping. I come home and wake her up and say, "What are we going to do today?”
I don't think that will work. I have to get busy. I still feel I've got a few years, two or three years, before I retire for good. I still have good energy. I love the game. I think I can bring good things to a team. Jacques Lemaire, winner of 11 Stanley Cups as a player, executive and coach, stepped down as Wild coach on Monday. In eight seasons in Minnesota he coached the Wild to a 291-256-107 record, three playoff appearances and one Northwest Division championship.
Previous editions ...
Feb. 27, 2009: 'Deadline Day' deal breakdown
Feb. 9, 2009: Koivu's club team comes calling ... and chanting
Jan. 30, 2009: Relationships and deal-making
Jan. 29, 2009: Why Fritsche fits
Jan. 26, 2009: The Outliers: Three teams win at historic rate
Jan. 21, 2009: Thoughts about our team at the All-Star break
Jan. 2, 2009: On ... Marian Gaborik's surgery