Last year the Dallas Stars had considered Willie Desjardins as a possible addition to the coaching staff, but the timing wasn’t right since Desjardins was slated to be the head coach of Canada’s team at the 2010 World Junior Championship. This year, however, the timing was right for both sides, and on Tuesday Desjardins stepped down as the head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers and joined the Stars as associate coach.
“He has run an exceptional program in Medicine Hat for almost a decade now. Willie’s winning pedigree and positive attitude brings a lot to our organization,” said GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “He will help the Dallas Stars in our efforts take the next step in getting back to the playoffs.”
Desjardins, 53, has long been considered one of the top coaches in junior hockey. He joins head coach Marc Crawford, assistants Charlie Huddy and Stu Barnes and goaltending coach Mike Valley. Gone from last year's staff is Andy Moog,
“I've always been impressed with Willie and the program in Medicine Hat,” said Crawford. “The program is second to none. It's been the top program in the Western Hockey League along with the Vancouver Giants for almost ten years. It's great timing for him to come join us. He's a senior guy that's been coaching for a long time and I think he's really going to complement our staff very well.”
Desjardins took over in Medicine Hat in 2002-03 and turned around a program that hadn’t made the playoffs in five seasons. In Desjardins’ eight years as head coach and general manager (since 2005), the Tigers won two WHL championships and made the playoffs each season.
The eight seasons in Medicine Hat, the success and the bonds built in the process left Desjardins with a difficult decision when an NHL opportunity knocked.
"It was a tough decision. My time in Medicine Hat was great. It wasn't just coaching here, but I got to be part of a community and part of a history of a team,” Desjardins said. “It was a great place to coach and that's what made it harder. If I hadn't enjoyed it here, it would have been an easier decision. I really had a great spot here.
"I wouldn't have left if I didn't think it wasn't an unbelievable opportunity. I just think it's such a great franchise. I really like the leadership and the direction and I am really excited about the opportunity. I wouldn't have gone just anywhere, but this was an exceptional place."
Desjardins said he didn’t have any strong history with anyone in the organization, but Desjardins made a strong impression in his interviews, especially with Nieuwendyk.
Giving Desjardins the associate coach title was part of the negotiating process. There were other teams after him and other offers. There’s more to it as well.
"I think it speaks well to our players and our people the magnitude of the decision by giving him that title,” Crawford said. “We're telling everybody, as well, that this is a real important guy. Everybody is important, but that fact that he's been a head coach for so long and the fact that he's coached at a high level internationally is really good. That's something we need."
Besides the long stint at Medicine Hat, Desjardins was the head coach Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship and served as an assistant to head coach Pat Quinn for Canada's 2009 World Junior team.
"Being a hockey coach for so long, being a great recruiter, being great with personalities and understanding the decisions that have to be made as a head coach, I think from that standpoint he'll be invaluable," said Crawford. "I talked with Pat Quinn and he thought that his input as an assistant was just terrific. Mike Johnson (former Crawford assistant), who knows him tremendously well, told both Willie and myself that he thought the relationship would be just great, and he believes our chemistry will be terrific.
"I think it's those two qualities - the fact that he's been a head coach, he understands the decisions that have to be made and he understands he has to give input. What I am looking forward to is the valuable input he will be bringing to us."
Desjardins doesn’t expect much of a change making the jump from junior hockey to the NHL.
“I've worked with a lot of young guys who have gone on to become pro players and they'll change a bit, but I think there still is a common thread with the players. They love to win,” he said. “All those guys have gotten to where they are because they love to win. That's important to them. So, that's something that keeps us all together and keeps us all focused. It'll be different, but there will be some common things that always run through hockey.”
As far as roles and responsibilities for the staff, Crawford said the coaches will get together at the end of the month to start hammering out details.
"We're going to talk through all the issues and all the responsibilities,” Crawford said. “That will all be decided as we keep moving forward. He's obviously going to get a prominent decision as the associate coach dictates.”
The Stars also announced Tuesday that they have signed assistant Stu Barnes to a contract extension for next season.
The Stars have signed forward Scott Glennie, the team’s first round (8th overall) pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft to a three-year entry-level contract. Glennie is expected to play next season in juniors, so his contract would likely kick in for the 2011-12 season.