Habs Fever: Who is this guy?
Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien watches his team go through drills during their training camp Tuesday, January 15, 2013 in Brossard, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013 12:18PM EST
Montreal Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien is writing a new chapter in his life. It's called Lessons I Have Learned.
When last we left you, Therrien was the mustard-suit-wearing, unsportsmanlike-penalty-taking, winger-Bill-Lindsay-to-the-face-off-sending coach who needed to take some responsibility for a series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that ultimately led to his dismissal.
You saw it in slow-motion replay as it played out live. Every one of the 21,273 in the building could see it happening against the 'Canes.
"Oh, Michel, don't take on Kerry Fraser. Get your foot off the boards. Stop using your hands." Sure enough. Kerry was Kerry, and the 'Canes powerplay was the 'Canes powerplay, and all that looked so great was lost on a Nicolas Wallin point shot off a Bill Lindsay lost draw.
Suddenly, that yellow coat wasn't just ugly - it was the symbol of failure.
But that was then, and this is a now that is leaving fans and everyone in the media and the hockey world asking "Who is this guy?"
Credit again to Marc Bergevin for being a distinct judge of character and talent. Bergevin can do no wrong. Every move he makes turns out right.
He takes on the most popular player on the team, PK Subban, in a holdout negotiation and wins the battle.
The draft he leaves in the hands of Trevor Timmins for him to perhaps have his best ever. The UFA signings look perfect so far.
He handles the media with great skill. He was right on, dead centre, in the Scott Gomez buyout even if Gomez manages a successful season in San Jose - the $7.3 million had to get off the books.
The only criticism I could measure for Bergevin is in a series of successful bold suit choices perhaps last nights against the Jets was just too much. I jest of course. Not that it wasn't too much, but that anyone should care.
One move though that Bergevin did make, many questioned.
Here we go again: a rehashed coach. A man who already failed here once given a second chance.
Second chances are wonderful in this world, but they don't tend to work in the coaching circles in the same town. It was the best choice though. Therrien was the best man for the job in a small field of bilingual choices. but the heat was still on Bergevin for it.
So all eyes were on Therrien as he began day one only two weeks ago.
Would we see that Therrien ego? Would he bristle at the harder questions from the media? Would he try to be the focus of the show? Would he not have a sense of when to pat a player's back and when to drive a point home? Would he essentially be that coach who was fired for good reason?
For all the media who were around a decade ago, the answer is that no one recognizes this head coach.
At every news conferences nearly daily in Brossard with Therrien at the lectern fielding questions from the media throng, whispers are heard to your left and to your right as long time beat writers and reporters murmur with incredulity "Who is this guy? This is unbelievable how different he is?"
Lessons I Have Learned
It's a mantra for a healthy continuing life. We all have the chance to keep improving ourselves.
Not a lot of us seize that moment. We get pigheaded. Don't like the criticism.
It takes courage to redraw the lines in your life, so Therrien deserves a massive amount of respect from all of us at this point.
He certainly is getting it from his players.
They are eagerly in the deepest end of the pool with him on the team concept that he is preaching. It's a mantra.
At this point, the players are so about 'team' Josh Gorges, yes even Josh Gorges, who is perfectly calm in the face of the stupidest questions that come his way looked at the media on Tuesday when asked about PK Subban and said "I don't want to talk about just one guy here. We're not about just one guy. This is a team. That's why we are winning right now. We're caring for each other and working for each other."
I have heard this Gorges quote many times in my 28 years of doing this job.
I hear it in the playoffs, on the verge of a series win. Not in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Team feelings don't develop that fast.
Josh Gorges doesn't pay lip service to his answers. He feels them. He believes them. Gorges would not have the first clue how to have a lack of integrity in his answers and his play.
He made a decision to house Brendan Gallagher in about a 3-second conversation in the Habs dressing room on Monday. Gorges only knows commitment.... in all ways.
So when Gorges tells you that the Habs are focused on team and no individual attitudes are going to fly, bank it.
And where is this coming from? Where is this overhaul in attitude after may have been the worst season in franchise history coming from?
Michel Therrien is selling a package that they are committed to.
Carey Price, after the win against Winnipeg, took a question that seemed game-specific and quite unexpectedly answered with: "It all starts with management. It is all about the head coach and it trickles down from there."
One thing you can generally expect from a hockey player who is the talent on the ice and the reason that you go to watch and pay big money to be entertained is an answer that doesn't credit a guy who isn't even on skates. A praising-the-coach answer you generally have to prod out of a player.
Management has shifted -- and it shows
The young players are getting the message too. The two Galleys are behaving with a remarkable maturity.
Therrien had some great young players in Pittsburgh in Crosby and Malkin and some lessons had to be learned there too, so here Therrien rolls in to Montreal and the best prospect that this club has had in decades comes at the same time and is succeeding at 18 years of age after missing a year of junior to a knee injury.
In hockey sense, Alex Galchenyuk is really just 17 and this has to be so exciting for Habs fans that it must be apparent a new day is dawning.
That the man tutoring this prodigy is Michel Therrien and everyone is thrilled about that is a stark contrast to trying to imagine how he would have handled a prodigy in his first incarnation here a decade ago.
Imagine how you would have felt about the first Therrien handling Galchenyuk. Feel how comfortable you are about this Therrien working with him.
You can also quickly get a sense that Bergevin and Therrien are working together on their decisions. The message is finely crafted by both of them and it is consistent.
I never got the sense with Jacques Martin and Pierre Gauthier that they ever worked together.
Instead, it always felt as if they were at loggerheads. Here the personnel decisions and direction for the club in structure and line up seem to be a GM and coach on the same page.
Little moments too have already stuck out. Brendan Gallagher scores his first goal and he gets a big pat on the back and he turns around and the kid's face just lights up like New York City when he sees his head coach is congratulating him.
Pushing the right buttons they call it.
Therrien working hard, giving credit to players
Mostly what has been detailed herein has been the new control of Therrien, but an improved attitude without a strong game plan is only worth some good vibes, but not two points most nights.
Again, here Therrien is a new man. The system in place has the Habs with so much more puck possession, the forecheck is better, Gerard Gallant is doing wonders with the powerplay, the Habs meet an opponent to defend at center ice instead of between their face off circles, the puck pressure is startling the opposition, the pinches at the point in the offensive zones are smarter, the subsequent cover from the center man is better if the pinch doesn't work.
I could go on, and on and on, but I won't, and neither will Therrien again to his credit.
He just humbly deflects the praise on to his players. And I will tell you what - that is something the players appreciate more than you could possibly know.
And the two-way street keeps getting more and more happy traffic as the players then respond in kind with praise of their coach.
When you are secure in your own skin, you don't feel the need to brag of your accomplishments. You don't have to direct attention toward you.
That's Therrien now. Secure because he knows that he is able.
Calm, secure leadership
All of this is easy though when you win games, but has there been a difficult challenge to Michel Therrien to see truly if he is a new man, or has he not met a tough moment yet?
I think we can safely say playing against Winnipeg was the first tough moment and he excelled beautifully.
Brandon Prust gets a penalty for getting cross-checked between the numbers and reacting with too much pain. The refs call an unsportsmanlike penalty for simulation.
Here we go! The game is in the balance. It's late. It just doesn't feel like the puck is going to hit the correct side of the post for the Habs in this one. Something's not quite clicking.
It's leadership time.
Where does the coach put his focus? He wants that call reversed. You know he thinks it's horse bleep. But calm he stays. Gets an explanation from his captain.
The bench is livid. They're looking back at him for direction.
No foot on the bench.
No loud lecture.
Go kill the penalty boys. And they do. And they win. And the coach passes his first big test: when the instinctive nature of his personality met the decade of lessons of his intellect.
His intellect won and so do the Montreal Canadiens more clearly in this moment than any.
Therrien transformed Pittsburgh
Michel Therrien took a Pittsburgh team in his first year and improved them by more than 40 points.
I didn't think honestly he would ever work in the league again after he was fired here.
People said it was just Crosby and Malkin, and that's true, of course, but that doesn't take the stat away either. He was the man there and he gets credit for an outstanding organizational turn around.
Now he attempts to do it again in hockey's greatest pressure mecca - improve a team by 40 points (pro rated).
With a 4 and 1 start, he's on the way, but don't focus on the win or the loss, focus instead on the process.
It's the process that produces the wins and the losses in the end. A fine balance is struck generally in life where you do get what you deserve. So keep the process intact and concentrate on it, and the results always come in a fair manner in the end.
We all make mistakes. We all fall short. We all need second chances.
When you see someone seize theirs, I challenge you to not enjoy their moment -- marvel in their growth -- hope you'll be as blessed.