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Try as they did, the media could not coax a negative word out of fired Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien yesterday.

"I feel no bitterness toward anybody -- the players or the organization," Therrien said in his first meeting with reporters since Friday, when he was fired and replaced by Claude Julien.

"The organization made a decision they felt was best for the team. Do I accept it? I admit it's frustrating, but I have to accept it."

Calm and in good humour amid the Greek columns and palm trees of the sprawling Onyx restaurant complex near his home in the suburbs north of Montreal, Therrien would burn no bridges.

He wished Julien and the Canadiens good luck for the rest of the season and thanked everyone from team owner George Gillett to the man who fired him, general manager Andre Savard.

He even thanked the reporters, joking that "it might be the first time it wasn't the media that fired the coach," and when asked about his running feud with referee Kerry Fraser, wisely said: "I don't want to talk about my dear friend Kerry today."

Therrien, 39, hopes to find another coaching job in the National Hockey League, and making a noisy, finger-pointing exit wouldn't have helped that cause.

While as yet there have been no coaching offers, it remains open to him to stay on as a pro scout with the Canadiens, with whom he remains under contract until the end of next season. He is to discuss it with Savard next week, but his heart is in coaching.

"I'm convinced I'll be back, either as a head coach or as an assistant, in the NHL," he said. "I'm a career coach."

There is already talk that he may be hired as an assistant to his old friend Bob Hartley in Atlanta. Therrien was once an assistant to Hartley in junior hockey.

Therrien said he got a call from Hartley the day he was fired, but they didn't discuss a coaching job.

"It was more to pat me on the back than anything," Therrien said of the call.

The closest Therrien came to criticism was when he was asked about the short tenure of Canadiens coaches in recent years. Julien is the Habs' fourth head coach in seven years. Therrien was fired in only his third season.

"Stability is important," Therrien said. "You wish people would stay for a long time. I really wish, for the benefit of the franchise, that Claude Julien stays for a long time."

Despite a flood of injuries, Therrien's Canadiens rode Jose Theodore's goaltending to their first playoff berth in four years last season and then upset the Boston Bruins in the first round before bowing out to Carolina.

But the team looked to have tuned out their fiery-tempered coach this season. When the Habs won only two of their first 12 games after the Christmas break and dropped out of a playoff position, Savard opted for a coaching change.

"I took it hard," Therrien said. "It was emotional.

"It's frustrating when you think you've got things under control and you're capable of getting the team back on track. But I'm sure there's good things waiting for me."

In their first game under Julien on Saturday night, the Canadiens lost in overtime to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, but played with more energy than had been seen in recent weeks.

"The Canadiens are a good team," Therrien said. "I'm convinced they'll make the playoffs and that they'll surprise people in the playoffs, like they did last year."

Few players called to wish Therrien luck, but one who did was veteran centre Doug Gilmour, who some reports had said was a leader of the anti-Therrien faction.

"Absolutely not," said Therrien. "We had a great relationship.

"He's a leader and he was an important part of the success we had last year. I'm sure he'll go to the Hall of Fame and I'm proud to say that I believe I helped him when he came here from Buffalo."

Whatever comes next for Therrien, it's sure to be quieter than the hectic life of a head coach in Montreal, where a rebuilding team is condemned to play before an audience that grew up watching the Canadiens win strings of Stanley Cups in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Therrien, not wishing to be a distraction after he was fired, elected to wait until the Habs were on the road, in Florida, before meeting with the media.

Still, his news conference was packed and carried live by three Quebec television stations.

"When you coach the Montreal Canadiens, it doesn't begin and end at the Bell Centre," he said. "It follows you everywhere you go, 24 hours a day.

"I learned a lot from this and I think it made me a better person."

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