First to 100
Alain Vigneault coached his way to a milestone win earlier this season
Sure, if the Canucks lose a tight game and he’s disappointed in his players, then a smile can be hard to find.
Typically, A.V. is both candid and humorous; he’s just as likely to provide an insightful answer during as press conference as he is to crack a joke.
He doesn’t work the mic quite as well as Jerry Seinfeld, but even when dealing with a serious question about his success behind the Vancouver bench, Vigneault is quick to fire off a sly remark.
Three weeks ago the Canucks did more than merely pick up two points in a 3-2 road win over the Minnesota Wild, they backed Coach V to his 100th regular season win in Vancouver.
When asked about he milestone victory, and the fact that of Vancouver’s 16 all-time coaches he’s the fastest to reach the 100-win plateau, Vigneault downplayed the situation and its significance.
“Obviously 100 wins is a number, I’m not sure it meant anything special to me,” said Vigneault.
“I’m happy that I got it and I’m looking forward to my 200th win with the Canucks.”
A tongue-in-cheek response from Vigneault was to be expected as he’s not the type of guy who likes to reminisce about his personal accomplishments, but it’s difficult to overlook his success in Vancouver so far.
Vigneault hit triple digits for wins in only 184 games coached in Vancouver, his 100-65-19 record at that point placed him fifth overall in the team’s all-time coaching records. He has since moved past Bob McCammon into fourth place on that list and Coach V is now only 37 wins away from Pat Quinn, who currently resides in third place.
His attack on Vancouver’s coaching records, which earned him league-wide recognition and a Jack Adams Award following the 2006-07 season, has come in only two and a quarter seasons with the Canucks, a clear indication that the players respect and trust the method to his madness.
“I think he’s a great coach,” said tough guy Shane O’Brien, who is still getting a read on Vigneault having been acquired earlier this season.
“He treats you like a pro, he treats you like a man and he expects you to play well. This is a pretty good place to come to the rink everyday and you want to work hard for him because he doesn’t put you down or make you feel inferior.
“He’s a good guy to play for and he’s a smart coach, obviously everyone here likes him because they buy into what he’s saying and play hard for him.”
The Canucks have only had the benefit of A.V.’s coaching for a little over two seasons, yet he was no stranger to the NHL game coming in.
After spending six years coaching in the QMJHL, split between the Trois Rivieres Draveurs and Hull Olympiques, Vigneault was hired on as an assistant coach with the expansion Ottawa Senators.
Three eye-opening years later Vigneault was back in the Q, this time with the Beauport Harfangs, but it didn’t take long for him to get another shot at the NHL. After only two seasons with the Harfangs, Vigneault got the call from the Montreal Canadiens.
Prior to the 1997-98 season, Vigneault became the second youngest head coach in Canadiens franchise history when he took over for Mario Tremblay at age 36. For A.V., a Quebec product, coaching his beloved Canadiens was a fairytale, one that lasted 20 games into his fourth season.
Two seasons after Vigneault and the Canadiens parted ways, he was back in the QHMJL, but not for long again; the Canucks made him part of their organization in 2005-06 when they hired him to coach the Manitoba Moose.
One season later he was behind the bench in Vancouver for his third NHL tour of duty and second as head coach.
Alex Burrows, who is currently in his third full season with the Canucks, played under Vigneault in Manitoba before making the leap to Vancouver. Having first gone to war for Coach V as a member of the Moose, Burrows has seen Vigneault’s growth as a coach.
“He knows a lot more about the Western Conference, that’s for sure,” said Burrows. “He knows how to adjust to the traveling schedule, we get a lot of days off and he tracks everything real well, when we need work outs and when we need a hard practice or an easy practice to make sure that our energy level is always as high as possible when game time comes.
"I think he manages that very well and that’s all the credit to him.”
Vigneault coached the Moose to an impressive 44-24-7 record and he translated that to NHL success; Burrows said that Vigneault’s even-keeled nature helps him get the best of his players in any situation.
“He likes to look at both sides of everything, he won’t snap or start yelling if something happens out there, he’s pretty rational. He thinks about everything and questions what happened before making a decision on what to do.”
Rick Bowness, Vancouver’s associate coach, has been with Vigneault throughout his tenure with the Canucks, but his working relationship with Coach V extends past that. The pair first strategized together when Bowness was head coach of the Senators and Vigneault was his right hand man.
Bowness has also witnessed Vigneault's growth as a coach first hand and knowing how difficult winning in the NHL is, he’s got a lot of respect for Vigneault.
“The coach's job is to take the team’s talent and get the most out of every player and that’s what Alain excels at,” said Bowness. “He gets that key team-first mentality from each individual.”
Coach Vigneault now has 104 wins and counting in Vancouver; with a solid pre-all-star break run, that total might be nearing 140 by season’s end.
A lot could happen before then, but as long as Vigneault continues not taking things too seriously, the Canucks will be all right.