At times like these, a lot of Wild fans will be quick to thank the stars above that Jacques Lemaire will not be the coach of the Minnesota Wild next year.
Some will look at this last season and feel that all or most of the blame lies with him and his coaching style for not making the playoffs—those fans couldn't be more wrong. He is the reason that this hockey program is on the map in the first place.
As a devoted fan of the Minnesota Wild from day one, I can admit that I wanted to see a change for next year in terms of who was behind the bench.
But it didn't have to do with a lack in belief that Mr. Lemaire can still coach, rather that his style of coaching is not as successful in today's NHL. Jacques Lemaire forgot more about hockey than most of us will ever know long before he ever stepped behind the bench for the first time.
Jacques Lemaire played for the greatest hockey franchise in the history of the game, and he played on TEAMS, not a collection of individual talents playing for the same thing. And while a lot of the teams that he played on were loaded with talent, it was the use of that talent in a system that enabled them to win Lord Stanley's Cup again and again.
When Jacques stepped behind the bench, he simply took a lot of the successes that he had as a player, applied his own twist to things (the "neutral zone" trap) and became an equally successful coach as he was a player.
His first successes were with the New Jersey Devils, and while they had a backstop as a goalie and a number of offensively gifted players, they didn't rely on any one player to make it work.
His theory is quite simple, play hard, defensive minded hockey until you see an offensive opening created by the opposing teams' defensive miscue and then capitalize on it. Not exciting hockey, but it works—or should I say worked.
In 2003, Mr. Lemaire took a three year old franchise made up of a collection of players who as Herb Brooks once said, didn't "have enough talent alone", and used those "limited" talents in his system to take that team deep into the playoffs.
It was that team that ended Mr. Roy's career (thank you Mr. Brunette). It was that team that came back from a 3-1 deficit in a series—twice. Those were his teams. That had never been done before.
And while he while he had Mr. Gaborik and Mr. Brunette, he really didn't have a whole lot more (except for a couple of hot goalies). That's not to say that the team was completely void of any other talent, but I challenge even the committed hockey fan to name me five other guys on that team.
To Mr. Lemaire, the names didn't matter, as long as they did their job on the ice when their skates hit it.
While I am excited about where this team can go now that Jacques Lemaire will be stepping down, I am also a bit sad to see someone who was so instrumental in putting this team on the map in the first place leave us.
Until today, he had been the only coach this team had ever known. If we had to go back and start this franchise again with a different coach, the list is awfully short as to who I'd rather have had. Maybe the list doesn't even exist.
All the best to you Mr. Lemaire and thanks for the memories. Mr. Leipold, the puck is now in your zone. Are you gonna skate it up ice, ice it, or throw it into the stands for a delay of franchise?
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