Gerard Gallant says it was tough to leave a powerhouse junior team in Saint John, but he could not resist the lure of getting back into the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens.
Even as an assistant coach.
The 48-year-old Gallant was named along with Clement Jodoin on Friday as assistants to Michel Therrien, who was tabbed for a second stint as head coach in Montreal last week.
Gallant spent the last three seasons at the helm of one of the strongest major junior teams ever. His talent-laden Sea Dogs had a record three straight 100-point seasons and reached the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League finals each year, winning twice. They won a Memorial Cup in 2011.
In three seasons, Gallant’s Sea Dogs had a stellar 161-34-9 record.
“That’s the tough part, Saint John was a good situation,” Gallant said on a conference call from his home in Summerside, P.E.I. “It’s hard to leave.”
But his goal was to return to the NHL, where he starred as a power forward for 11 seasons and later worked as an assistant with two clubs and as a head coach for parts of three seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2004 to 2006.
“As a coach, it’s no different,” he said. “You want to be part of the best hockey in the world. To come back with a franchise like Montreal is incredible.”
He said he had talks about an assistant coaching job with two other NHL clubs, which he declined to name, but Montreal was the first to make an offer.
Therrien now has Gallant, Jodoin and two holdovers in goaltender coach Pierre Groulx and video coach Mario Leblanc on his staff. He hopes to add one more assistant coach to work with the defencemen.
It is part of a flurry of moves made by Montreal after the team finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12. Assistants Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur were fired last week, a day after Therrien was hired as head coach.
Marc Bergevin replaced the fired Pierre Gauthier as general manager and has added Scott Mellanby, Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois to the management team, while keeping on assistant GM Larry Carriere, director of hockey operations Patrick Boivin and amateur scouting head Trevor Timmins.
He also named Sylvain Lefebvre as coach of the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs to replace Jodoin.
Gallant and Bergevin were teammates during his final two NHL seasons in Tampa Bay and were among a group that drove together to the rink each day from their homes at a nearby golf resort.
He also knows Lapointe, and is acquainted with Therrien from playing against him in junior and coaching against him in the NHL.
“I don’t know Gerard that well but it was a name I added to my list right away,” said Therrien. “I heard only good things about him.
“I liked him as a player and he’s experienced as a coach. He knows what it is to be an NHL coach. And he did a good job with young players in Saint John.”
As a coach, Gallant is known more for being a motivator than a tactician. He said the specific duties he gets will be decided when the coaching staff meets for the first time next week.
He said he wants to bring “hard work and a lot of fun” to the job in Montreal.
Therrien said Jodoin, who is strong on tactics, is more of a teacher who also did well coaching young players.
Gallant had offers for AHL jobs while in Saint John but said he was only interested in returning to the NHL. He worked as an assistant in the NHL with Columbus before he was named head coach, and from 2007 to 2009 with the New York Islanders.
Jodoin also coached in the QMJHL. He led the Rimouski Oceanic for four seasons before joining the Bulldogs last year.
He won the CHL’s Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award in 2007 after leading the defunct Lewiston MAINEiacs to the President’s Cup and a berth at the Memorial Cup.
The 60-year-old native of St-Cesaire, Que., will be in his second stint with the Canadiens. He worked for the club from 1997 to 2003 in various capacities, including as an assistant coach during Therrien’s first stint with the club.
As a player, Gallant spent nine with the Detroit Red Wings and two with the Lightning. In 615 games, he recorded 480 points with 1,674 penalty minutes.