| Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire leads the Wild into the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. |
Wild fans have never known any other head coach than Jacques Lemaire. The Hall-of-Famer has been at the helm of the team since its inception. He has helped younger players grow into core pieces and he has watched veterans come and go as he and President/General Manager Doug Risebrough have looked for the right pieces to make the Wild a consistent winner. Now that the Wild are making their second trip to the postseason, fans will get to watch Lemaire truly shine.
Coaching legend Scotty Bowman gave a rave review of Lemaire in the Vancouver Province saying: “He’s a proven playoff player and coach. He’ll make adjustments during a series better than anyone. Nobody wants to play the Wild. They scare you.”
Lemaire is no stranger to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that much you know. But The State of Hockey’s Kevin Falness sat down with Lemaire to get his thoughts on the Wild as they head into the playoffs.
What does it mean to you to have lead this team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
I don't like to talk too much about what the playoffs mean. The only thing I can say is that it's a different year. It's a new year that starts and the intensity will be at the highest level, and the pressure will be at the highest level. The players that can deal with that will have the best chance to win.
How far has this team come from that first game back in 2000 to now seven years later?
When we first started, we just wanted to work with the kids and make sure that they learn and get better. During that stage, we did make the playoffs once, which could've been an accident in a way, but the group of guys that we had really gave everything they had. When everyone plays at their best you never know what's going to happen. [When we brought on] more talented players at the start of the season we figured, “Hey, we've got a crack to make the playoffs this year and we’re among the teams that will fight for the eighth, seventh or sixth position.” That’s exactly where we are and so far it looks good.
Is there any doubt at all that this is the best team the Minnesota Wild franchise has ever put on the ice?
No doubt. You’ve got Gaborik who's at his best now and he's growing and still growing. And Bouchard, he's still growing. Burns is playing his best hockey right now. These are the kids that we had when we first started. Plus Wes Walz and then we add to that guys like Rolston, White and Demitra – guys that are solid and experienced.
You talk about the young guys and what they've meant to the team this season. Where would you be without these guys and what has their success done to get you where this team is right now?
These guys were the future. They are the future. I still believe these guys will get better. I don't think the fans have seen the best out of these guys. They're young and I look at the talent that they have and the ability that can grow...I see it at times but a year from now, two years from now maybe three, you'll see these guys playing at a different level.
Ron Wilson, the head coach of the San Jose Sharks, was quoted as saying that there will be no upsets in this years Western Conference playoffs. Even if an eight seed beats a seed, those are two very talented teams and the field is wide open. Do you agree?
It will be tough. You look at the top four teams and they're good. And you look at the other four and they're good. It's going to be a battle. The top four were there all year. They proved that they're solid and can do well. We'll see what happens. There's no doubt we'll have to come out as good as we can be if we want a chance to hit one of these teams.
Do you think your Wild team realizes the level of intensity and pressure that awaits them in the playoffs?
Part of our [the coaches] job will be to help them realize that and if they don't I can assure you they will the first game.