The past couple of years when the development of young players has taken a back seat to “winning” in Montreal, with poor results, I have wondered if Marc Bergevin has as much respect for Ottawa 67’s coach Andre Tourigny as I do.
A win-at-all-costs philosophy is reluctantly tolerable when a team is winning. With Montreal about to miss the playoffs for a third-straight season under the guidance of Claude Julien, it has crossed my mind that it’s time for the Canadiens to consider hiring a head coach with a proven track record nurturing young players.
Tourigny guided the 67’s, a team with no first-round NHL picks, to the OHL finals last season before falling to the Nick Suzuki-led Guelph Storm in six hard-fought games. Just like last year, he has had the 67’s at the very top in the weekly CHL power rankings for much of this season.
“He has good structure, is a good communicator, and the kids buy in,” said one NHL scout. “That is shown by his teams’ work ethic. He has a history of success working with good players.”
Some fans have asked me if they think Tourigny has enough experience to be a head coach in the NHL. When you compare his coaching career to Dom Ducharme and Joel Bouchard before they were hired by the Canadiens, the answer is an emphatic “Yes” :
Tourigny – 20 years of coaching at either the junior or NHL level. Eleven years a junior GM.
Ducharme – Ten years of coaching in the Q, two as a GM. No NHL coaching experience.
Bouchard – Four years of coaching in the Q, six years as a GM. No NHL coaching experience.
How does he stack up against Montreal’s noteworthy hires out of junior hockey the past three decades in terms of experience?
Pat Burns coached junior hockey three seasons, and then one in the AHL before taking over as coach of the Canadiens. Claude Julien coached for six seasons in the QMJHL and 2.5 seasons in the AHL. Alain Vigneault was hired right out of junior after coaching for six seasons in the QMJHL, and had no pro experience.
“I know when I came back from the NHL, after 11 years in Rouyn plus three years in the NHL, I was still the third youngest coach in the league,” said Tourigny, who was just 24 years old when he first started coaching in the QMJHL, landing an assistant coaching position with the Shawinigan Cataractes in 1998-99.
At 28, he became the youngest GM/coach in QMJHL history when he was hired by the Rouyn Noranda Huskies, and ran that organization for 11 seasons. During that period the Huskies missed the playoffs on one occasion, a remarkable achievement at the junior level considering the rampant turnover of players.
Also remarkable when one considers how difficult it can be to persuade Atlantic Canadians, Europeans and Americans to play hockey in an isolated northern Quebec mining town. Tourigny coached Rouyn to three league semi-finals and one final before being hired by the Colorado Avalanche to assist Patrick Roy, who wanted him on his NHL staff after seeing his work in the Q for so many years.
From there he moved to Ottawa as an assistant coach for one season before head coach Dave Cameron and the staff were fired. He has never been fired at the junior level in his 17 years of coaching in both the Q and the OHL, in itself a notable achievement.
Tourigny returned to the Q to coach Halifax for one season, where Nico Hischier entered his draft-eligible season ranked as a mid- late first-round prospect. By season’s end, Hischier was one of the better two-way centers in the Q and ended up being selected first overall overall by the New Jersey Devils. Tourigny did such a stellar job in developing Hischier’s all-around game that he made the Devils at 18 in his second season playing in North America, despite being underweight, in part because he had been taught the game so well in his own end.
Fast forward four seasons, and now Tourigny, in his fourth season with the Ottawa 67’s, has developed Austrian center Marco Rossi into one of the premiere all-around centers in junior hockey despite being just 5-9. Rossi is the runaway leader in plus/minus and points per game this OHL season, and may well be selected in the top five of the draft. Scouts would not have predicted that at the start of the season.
Even more remarkable has been the development of Jack Quinn, who was not in anyone’s first round going into this OHL season. Quinn may hit the 60-goal mark, and also a decent bet to be a top-10 pick in the NHL draft.
Sasha Chmelevski was a disappointment in Tourigny’s first season coaching Ottawa, sliding from what many thought was first-round potential to a sixth-round selection on draft day thanks to questionable skating, effort and consistency. By the time his OHL career was ending, Chemelevski was one of the better forwards in the OHL, and markedly improved at both ends of the rink thanks to improved speed, competitiveness and defensive awareness.
Somewhat similar was the case of Tye Felhaber. The former top-ten OHL pick was not drafted in the NHL, yet by last season had developed into the top goal scorer in the OHL and was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Stars.
Tourigny got his mitts on Nikita Kucherov for a half season, and the former 56th overall pick, who slid in the draft because scouts didn’t think he could check his hat, was playing in the NHL the following season. Andre taught him the defensive side of hockey on North American rinks, and now he is the reigning NHL MVP.
He has coached in 12 international junior events, and was recently named the head coach for Canada’s next WJC team. That is another thumbs up for his character and reputation – Hockey Canada isn’t hiring coaches with questionable reputations.
For my money, there is only one junior coach with a better resume than Tourigny, and that’s 59-year-old Dale Hunter, who could be coaching in the NHL tomorrow if he actually wanted to do it. He’s fine being a perennial OHL powerhouse as part owner and coach with his brother Mark…otherwise Hunter would be just that – an NHL coach.
Junior hockey fans will recognize Tourigny from his assistant coaching gig with Team Canada under Dale and Mark Hunter at the most recent WJC, where he became somewhat famous for catching a puck that had gone over the glass and then displaying it to the oficials, who wrongly decided not to penalize Canada on the play.
Tourigny himself would be a great catch. These days teams won’t be hiring a Mike Babcock or Bill Peters – they’ll be doing their due dilgence when it comes to researching the character of future coaching hires.
I have gotten to know Tourigny over my 14 years of scouting professionally, and there has not been a more informative and accommodating coach in junior hockey; Andre has always taken the time to talk to me about draft-eligible prospect, and it always amazes me how many he has either coached in some capacity, or scouted when he’s not behind a junior bench. Polite, affable, intelligent and fervently passionate, Tourigny lives and breathes hockey.
“He checks off all of the boxes as a potential head coach for the Canadiens,” noted one scout, who nevertheless thinks Tourigny could use some AHL seasoning before assuming an NHL head coaching role. “You would like them to have some pro seasoning.”
Considering that he has been coaching in both the junior and NHL ranks for the past 20 seasons, that point may be debatable.
If, however, it was decided that he should coach at the AHL level first, and Bergevin and Molson decide that they aren’t ready to start paying off Julien not to coach (he has two years left on his contract) and want to give him one more season to right the ship, there is no reason why the club can’t bump up Bouchard to full-time Laval GM and bring in Tourigny to coach the Rocket.
Or, better yet, bring in Tourigny in June as the GM/coach in Laval and move on from Bouchard, eventuually having him replace Julien in Montreal and make Ducharme his associate coach.
Either way – you would be getting a coach proven to work well with younger players, whether it be at the AHL or NHL level. And most importantly, he would be in the organization, and not hired by another NHL team -when it would obviously be too late to get him. He is only 45 years old, he has an exceptional track record, NHL scouts like and respect him, his players love him, and last of all, he is Quebecois.
His time has come.
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