Giving a good interview to a prospective employer is one thing, cooking an impromptu dinner for them is quite another.
So put this one down to Michel Therrien’s talents as a grill-master.
This past Sunday, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin called and asked to see him.
They met at Therrien’s house north of the city, where the 48-year-old fired up the barbecue – “I showed him my talents as a chef,” he joked.
Bergevin sprang the offer of a second turn behind the Habs’ bench; Therrien quickly accepted, and asked if it was okay to tell his 80-year-old mother Rachel, who lives with him and his children Elizabeth and Charles.
“There were tears on her cheek,” he said, “it was a beautiful moment.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Bergevin said that after an exhaustive search he concluded Therrien, a longtime hockey acquaintance, provided “the best fit for me and for the team.”
So what makes Therrien the right guy?
Leaving aside the howls from the anti-Therrien faction – which is populous given his previous stint – several factors leap to mind.
The team has better pieces than the last time, plus Therrien is a decade older, and commensurately wiser.
“You take over at 38, and everything feels like it’s moving pretty fast, you coach with your gut ... I feel much better equipped than I was [then],” Therrien said.
Those years, he said, have taught him to look at the game differently, and to adapt.
“To take a step back is never a bad thing,” he told a news conference. “You analyze yourself, what went well and what went wrong.”
Having spent the past year working as a television pundit, Therrien has refined his knowledge of the Habs’ rabid media pack – the spotlight now holds little mystery.
Like Bergevin, Therrien is old-school – as Pittsburgh Penguins boss he memorably ripped his “soft” blueline, saying “their goal is to be the worst defensive squad of the year.”
Therrien now says the outburst was calculated, that he’d spent a month “waving pom-poms.”
“It didn’t work,” he said drily, pointing out some players “need a pat on the back all the time, and other guys you give just one pat, their game goes down.”
Bergevin prizes character and drive, and Therrien has plenty of both.
He is also the only man on the Habs’ short-list to have steered a last-place team to the Stanley Cup final within three years, the span of a typical coaching contract.
Given Bergevin’s other candidates – believed to be Marc Crawford, Patrick Roy, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Hartley – the seamlessly bilingual Therrien is eminently defensible.
The last team he coached won the Stanley Cup; sure, he was fired a couple of months before it happened, but his influence on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kristopher Letang is undeniable.
Bergevin said he spoke at length with Pens co-owner Mario Lemieux – a childhood friend – to vet Therrien’s suitability.
Habs fans will note Crosby was the first person to call and offer congratulations.
Therrien is only the third man to get a second bite at the Montreal apple since the Second World War – with Bob Gainey and Claude Ruel.
And he is one of only two coaches in Habs history to compile a record of .500 or worse, although it wasn’t his fault he took over a team assembled by Réjean Houle from 2000-03.
Recent history has shown the coach of the Canadiens can expect an average tenure of 200 games. The longest-serving since 1992, Alain Vigneault, had 266.
And the window to show he is a changed man will not be open long. In fact, the slow slide shut has already started.