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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 22, 2020
It was in January 2016 that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin described his coach, Michel Therrien, as a “foxhole guy” that you want at your side during a fight.
The Canadiens were 4-16-1 in their last 21 games, but the GM gave Therrien a strong vote of confidence, insisting he wouldn’t fire his coach that season. Bergevin was a man of his word, Therrien kept his job and the Canadiens missed the playoffs with a 38-38-6 record.
The next season, Bergevin pulled the trigger on Therrien on Valentine’s Day while the Canadiens were in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 31-19-8 record, but slumping after a 13-1-1 start, going 1-5-1 in their previous seven games.
Enter Claude Julien, who had been fired by the Boston Bruins a week earlier. Julien brought his bilingual voice and a 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup ring behind the Montreal bench for his second stint coaching the Canadiens, leading them into the playoffs before losing to the New York Rangers in the first round.
After missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons under Julien, the Canadiens have finally returned with some help from COVID-19 following their upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the best-of-five “qualifier” that might have Montreal hockey fans now looking for their old Habs car flags while also mourning the loss of any chance of getting Alexis Lafrenière in the NHL Draft. Some fans might even be dreaming about that elusive 25th Stanley Cup, while the older ones try to remember what the “usual route” was for a Cup parade.
These are some crazy times in the real world and the hockey world.
Bergevin and Therrien will be in different foxholes when the Canadiens face the Philadelphia Flyers in the official first round of these COVID-19 NHL playoffs, with Game 1 slated for Wednesday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena (8 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio). After the Flyers hired Alain Vigneault — another former Canadiens coach — last April, he named Therrien as one of his assistants. It’s not a surprise that this matchup is already being called the Foxhole Series on social media.
Veteran Canadiens forward Dale Weise can provide a unique perspective on the series since he has played for Julien, Therrien and Vigneault during his career.
“They’ve had very substantial impacts on my career, for sure,” Weise said during a video conference Monday morning. “AV (Vigneault) was the guy that gave me my first shot in Vancouver to really be a full-time NHLer and I owe a lot to him. Tremendous coach. I have nothing but respect for him. And then Michel, obviously, it’s no secret I really, really enjoyed playing for him. He had a huge impact on giving me a bigger role and counting on me. Both those guys were tremendous for me. I can’t say enough good things about them.
“I was quietly cheering for them when they both got hired there (in Philadelphia) and turned that franchise from kind of being on the edge of a playoff spot to where they are now,” Weise added. “They’re first in the East for good reason. It’s a really good hockey club, they’re well coached. I’m happy for them until they play us. So that will change now.”
When asked if there are any similarities between Julien and Therrien as coaches, Weise said: “I think they’re a little different for numerous reasons. I think every coach has their own personal style. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of similarities between the two from my perspective.”
The last time the Canadiens were in the playoffs, Vigneault was coaching the Rangers. When the Canadiens lost to the Rangers in the 2014 Eastern Conference final, Therrien was coaching the Habs and Vigneault was behind the New York bench.
That makes the playoff score: Vigneault 2, Canadiens 0.
“Well, it’s been 20 years since my time in Montreal, so it’s been a few years,” Vigneault said during a video conference Monday. “I have had the opportunity with the Rangers twice to play against them — two Original Six (teams). I think with the Flyers this is as close as you can get to coaching another Original Six.
“Being part of the playoffs … if somebody would have told me three months ago that my team — the Flyers — would have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup I would have had serious doubts,” Vigneault added about this COVID-19 postseason. “Now we’re one of 16 teams, thanks to the great job that the NHL has done, to have the opportunity to compete for the Cup and our first opponent is the Montreal Canadiens. They’re a team that works extremely hard, they play a fast game. Everybody knows about their goaltender (Carey Price). So it’s going to be a tough series.
“More so, having the opportunity in these times right now to compete for the Stanley Cup means a lot to me and my team.”
Let the Foxhole Series begin — even though it’s actually being played in a bubble.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020