| Wild President and General Manager Doug Risebrough (right) contacted Jacques Lemaire this past summer to begin talks about a contract extension. |
Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough wanted Jacques Lemaire to remain the only head coach in franchise history. Lemaire wanted to stay with the Wild, and that’s pretty much all that was needed to secure a multi-year contract extension for the team’s Hall of Fame coach.
"We wanted Jacques to stay, and he wanted to stay," said Risebrough. "It wasn’t hard to do."
Lemaire entered the 2006-2007 season with one year left on his contract. Risebrough contacted him over the summer about an extension, and the agreement was finalized on Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed.
"I love it here," said Lemaire with a smile. "That’s why I’m staying. I’ve been very lucky to work with a good organization. I think in the near future, we’ll see us reach our goal and I want to be part of that."
Lemaire was brought on to coach the Wild during its expansion year, when Risebrough was searching for a coach that could teach players how to improve and could help build a winner. Risebrough also knew that Lemaire would bring credibility and credentials to a team that likely would not be taken seriously at the start.
Risebrough actually sat down with Lemaire in a downtown St. Paul park in the summer of 2000, and was finally able to convice the owner of eight Stanley Cup rings as a player, and one as an NHL head coach, after showing him a model of the Wild’s jersey.
"I never thought I’d be here this long at the start," admitted Lemaire. "I’ve always taken it one year at a time, but I like to work with people here. And I have fun. I enjoy the mornings here. I love to see (the current team) play."
Lemaire made repeated mention of the players and the talent level he currently sees as reasons why he is so excited to be a part of the Wild and remain in Minnesota. He admitted that the new players the Wild brought in may have played a role, but he also talked about his enjoyment of being around players of all talent levels.
"It’s fun for a coach to see players that have ability," he said. "The guys (in the locker room) aren’t all perfect as hockey players. But they are all nice people and easy to work with. It’s fun to work with them because they are trying to do what you want. The team is growing and we have different steps to achieve that are right there in front of you. That’s tough to walk away from."
Risebrough admires the satisfaction that Lemaire gets out of coaching the players that the general manager provides.
"He gets tremendous satisfaction out of watching players succeed," said Risebrough when asked if Lemaire is a "player’s coach." "Is that a ’player’s coach?’ Some people might say that. But he’s not easy on the players. He gives them a lot of responsibility and pushes them.
His good days can come in simple forms, like when a player whose lost his confidence gets it back. Or when he’s working with a player who is not supposed to be in the League, but he is in the League. He really enjoys that and it’s what motivates him and what’s kept him the best coach in the League."
Risebrough also credits the hockey atmosphere in Minnesota as a key component in Lemaire staying in Minnesota. A man as passionate about hockey as Lemaire is can only thrive when that passion is matched in the community according to Risebrough.
"Jacques would never coach in a place where hockey wasn’t important," said Risebrough. "That’s why Minnesota is such a good fit for him. There’s very few places that represent that and Jacques is really inspired by the fans seeing some of the things that he sees -- the understanding of the game and how the team can improve. We’re very blessed with a passion that inspires people to stay here and come here. It happened in free agency. This would not have been possible if not for the passion that this state and city has brought."
Lemaire has a 164-168-81 record in his six-plus years of coaching Minnesota. That includes a 98-69-41 mark at the Xcel Energy Center, and a 3-0-0 record to start the 2006-2007 campaign. The team’s 161 wins in its first five seasons are the most of any expansion team in its first five years since 1991.
"I don’t believe much in statistics, but Doug told me that one and I was impressed," said Lemaire. "That means we’re doing something right."
His career coaching record stands at 411-345-132 in 13 NHL seasons with Montreal, New Jersey and Minnesota. He owns a 57-44 Stanley Cup playoff record, having coached in the postseason seven out of 12 years, including the Wild’s run to the Western Conference Finals in 2002-03.