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Following the Trend

Friday, 15.06.2007 / 5:01 PM / Features
By Jeff Paterson
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Following the Trend

Scott Arniel doesn’t need my sympathy, but I couldn’t help but think about the head coach of the Manitoba Moose on Thursday night. Talk about tough shoes to fill.


Two years ago, Randy Carlyle was wrapping up his stint as coach of the Canucks top farm club in Winnipeg. Two weeks ago, he won the Stanley Cup.

Last year at this time Alain Vigneault had just completed his first year with the Moose. Last night, Vigneault was received the Jack Adams award as National Hockey League Coach of the Year. If anything, Arniel should look at the two men who preceded him behind the bench in Winnipeg and realize how quickly things change in the hockey world and quickly a guy can go from places like Grand Rapids and Albany and Peoria to the top of the hockey world.

Vigneault’s victory at Thursday’s NHL Awards Gala in Toronto is a testament to his perseverance to stay in the game and do whatever it took to get back to where he wanted to be. A lot of people see the glamourous side of the hockey business – the big money, the charter flights, the bright lights and screaming fans.

Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault poses with the Jack Adams Award at the NHL Awards in Toronto on Thursday, June 14, 2007.  (AP Photo/Aaron Harris, CP)
But for most – and especially most coaches – lifetimes of effort and preparation go into making it to the highest level of the game. There’s 700 spots for players in the NHL, but only 30 jobs for head coaches. And for a guy like Vigneault, who lived the dream as a French-Canadian getting to coach his beloved Montreal Canadiens in his mid-30’s, he also had to deal with the downside of a very public firing by the Habs. But to his credit, rather than pouting about his lot in life, the personable Vigneault picked himself up, dusted himself off and after a short stint as a pro scout realized that coaching hockey was what he was meant to do. So that’s what he went back to.

As was clear throughout his first season with the Canucks, Vigneault’s a man with a plan who knows what he wants from his players and showed that he’s capable of getting it. That’s why you have to feel good for a guy who a year and a half after losing his dream job wasn’t too proud to go right back to junior hockey and start working on his dream again.

Vigneault started the 2003-04 season coaching the Prince Edward Island Rocket of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Just three years ago he was riding the buses to Chicoutimi and Victoriaville and Rouyn-Noranda.

Two years ago, he was just another coach in the QMJHL, and Thursday night he was lauded as the best coach in the best league in the world. That’s a pretty impressive rise through the ranks and one that likely wouldn’t have been possible had Vigneault not learned some tough lessons from his first go-round in the NHL.

And maybe that’s what gives him such credibility with his players is that he’s shown that he can and will learn from his mistakes. As Vigneault was quick to point out from the podium on Thursday, the Coach of the Year Award really is the ultimate reflection of team success because if the players aren’t buying what a coach is selling, there’s no way that coach – or that team - will win anything.

So hopefully somewhere Scott Arniel was watching the proceedings in Toronto on Thursday realizing that even though he’s in the minors, his coaching dreams are well within reach. Randy Carlyle and Alain Vigneault are the surest proof of that.



Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at jeff.paterson@team1040.ca