Michel Therrien is back as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
The NHL club announced Tuesday that 48-year-old Therrien will replace Randy Cunneyworth behind the bench.
The Montreal native coached the Canadiens from 2000 until he was replaced by Claude Julien in January 2003.
Therrien said he’s excited by the level of talent within the Canadiens’ lineup.
“There is a lot of potential with this group,” he said during a news conference to announce his appointment.
And Therrien admits he has changed from his first stint at Canadiens coach.
“We all change,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in that dressing room here and I could tell you guys (media) changed a lot too.
“It goes with maturity. I got a lot of experience coaching that club before and I brought that experience and knowledge when I left Montreal.”
The announcement ended weeks of speculation on who would be new general manager Marc Bergevin’s man.
Former NHL coach Marc Crawford and the popular former goaltender Patrick Roy, now coach and general manager of the junior Quebec Remparts, were also believed to be top candidates.
Bergevin and his staff opted for Therrien, who has been working in television since he was let go by the Pittsburgh Penguins only a few weeks before their run to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Cunneyworth was named interim coach after Jacques Martin was fired in December. The move provoked howls of protest among many fans in Quebec because he was the first non-French speaker to hold the job in four decades.
Team president Geoff Molson apologized to fans and promised the next head coach would be bilingual.
At the end of the season, the team announced that Cunneyworth was no longer the coach and it would be up to the new head coach to decide whether to keep him on as an assistant.
Therrien was hired by Montreal in 1997 to coach their top farm team, which was then in Fredericton after taking the junior Granby Predators to a Memorial Cup the previous year.
He was named head coach of the Canadiens on Nov. 20, 2000 to replace the fired Alain Vigneault. Therrien’s team ended a four-year run of missing the playoffs by reaching the second round in 2002. He had a 77-77-36 record in his first stint with the Canadiens.
After leaving Montreal, he joined the Penguins’ AHL club in Wilkes-Barre from 2003 until he was called up to Pittsburgh to replace Ed Olczyk on Dec. 15, 2005.
“I got a chance to work with some great, young kids over there (Wilkes-Barre) and we reached the Calder Cup final and when I moved back to the NHL I was confident,” Therrien said. “I got a great challenge in Pittsburgh and got the chance to work with some great young players and the confidence in all those things helped me a lot.”
The following season, the talent-packed Penguins led by Sidney Crosby made a 47-point jump to 105 points. In 2007-08, they reached the Stanley Cup final, losing in six games to Detroit.
The team was faltering late in the 2008-09 campaign when Therrien was abruptly replaced by Dan Bylsma, who took the club to its first Stanley Cup since 1992.
Therrien has coached 462 NHL games with a 212-182-68 record. He is 21-16 in playoffs games.
Between the NHL and AHL, he has coached an even 1,000 pro games.
He is the sixth Canadiens coach to have a second stint behind the bench.
Newsy Lalonde coached from 1915 to 1921 and again from 1932 to 1934-35. Leo Danderand was behind the bench from 1921-22 to 1925-26 and then in 1934-35. Cecil Hart coached from 1926-27 to 1931-32 and again from 1936-37 to 1938-39.
Claude Ruel coached in 1968-69 and 1969-70, then returned in 1979-80 and 1980-81.
Bob Gainey, who was also general manager, finished off two seasons behind the bench — in 2004-05 after Julien was fired and 2008-09 after Guy Carbonneau was let go.