Michel Therrien stoked for a second chance
January, 18, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
MONTREAL -- On the wall in Michel Therrien’s office at the Bell Centre hangs a picture of the 1963-64 Montreal Canadiens.
"The year I was born," he said Friday, smiling.
A decade later, Therrien was among the multitude of Montreal kids ditching school to attend one of the nearly annual Stanley Cup parades the Habs held back then.
Michel Therrien was born to coach the C-H. It just so happens he’s getting that chance twice.
The 49-year-old Therrien steps behind the bench of Les Glorieux on Saturday night to begin Chapter 2 of his Habs coaching odyssey, exactly 10 years and two days after being fired by the Canadiens in his first go-around.
"Unreal, huh? Time flies," Therrien told ESPN.com in an interview after practice Friday. "I feel really good, I feel really confident."
He looks zen-like these days. There’s a calmness to him that just didn’t exist a decade ago.
"I learned a lot the first time I was here," said Therrien. "Geez, I was 37 years old with no NHL experience."
Today, he’s more relaxed. Life and hockey have taught him things he didn’t know more than a decade ago.
"For sure, we change over the years," said Therrien. "It’s normal. As a person, you change. We have gray hair for a reason. It’s life. It’s not because you’re a coach. But my passion is still there, I want to win. I want our team to play with emotion. It’s an emotional game we’re involved in. The X’s and O’s we’ve been working hard on all week in camp, that’s 50 percent of it. After that, it’s about will."
Canadiens winger Colby Armstrong played under Therrien in Pittsburgh and before that in AHL Wilkes-Barre.
"He definitely seems a little more mellow, but we haven’t played a game yet," Armstrong said, chuckling. "That compete level is still there. He wants to win and cares about getting the most out of the guys."
A young Therrien coached a mediocre Habs team to a first-round upset of Boston in the spring of 2002, but the team’s struggles the following season got him fired.
From there, he went to the Penguins' organization, where he coached in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre from 2003 to 2005 before accepting an NHL promotion in December 2005. It was during those early days behind the Penguins bench that he famously ripped his young but still lousy team for being the worst defensive team in the world, a clip still popular on YouTube.
"When I got there the team had been last for four years in a row. I had to change the culture," said Therrien.
Just one season later, Therrien coached the Penguins to a 47-point improvement in the standings, garnering him a Jack Adams nomination.
The following season, and Therrien had the young Pens in the Stanley Cup finals, pushing the Detroit Red Wings to six games in June 2008.
The young Penguins had responded and then some under Therrien.
"He’s good at motivating players and getting the most out of them," said Armstrong.
Of course, the presence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and company was a big reason for that meteoric rise, but each player on that team will tell you that Therrien was instrumental in changing how they played, bringing more structure to their game.
"He helped push some young players both in WB and Pitt," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com via email Friday. "He added structure on and off the ice. No denying he helped our club make a significant jump. He was good to work with. Loyal guy. Only 1 or 2 disagreements on players in our time together. As a GM, he was good to work with that way."
Shero would eventually replace Therrien with Dan Bylsma midway through the 2008-09 season, leaving Therrien without a coaching gig for the first time in his career.
"When I got fired in Pittsburgh, I took almost a year off," he said. "I had been coaching since I was 27. I had never stopped. I needed that break. I came back fresh from that.
"The last two years gave me the time to reevaluate the game, I stayed in contact with a few coaches, discussed strategy; you always have to adjust. You have to adjust to new tendencies. So when I got here, I had tons of notes and ideas. I didn’t waste my time the last two years."
He also worked in the media last season, doing TV panel work with French-language sports network RDS in Montreal (known to some as the French ESPN).
"I got media experience last year, and whether we like it or not, part of my job now as coach is communicating with the fans and accepting what I need to do with the media for our fans," he said. "I think that experience in the media last year will help me a lot."
Then came a call last spring from new Habs GM Marc Bergevin. He was getting an interview. Therrien couldn’t believe his fortune and he wasn’t going to waste his chance.
"I was well-prepared when I met Marc," said Therrien. "And I knew then, or at least I felt then, that this would be my job."
A month-long process ended with the phone call he so dearly wanted. The job was his.
"When Marc gave me the call, I still remember how I felt. It was pretty emotional," said Therien. "Getting a chance to do this again? Geez. My dad would have been proud."
His father passed away four years ago. That picture of the 1963-64 Habs hanging on the wall in his office? His dad bought him Montreal team pictures every year when he was a kid.
Dad would indeed be proud now. Another shot at glory with hockey’s most famous franchise.