VANCOUVER – Alain Vigneault’s new life in New York includes long drives to practice and subway rides.
“I’d tell you my Lincoln Tunnel story, but I can’t,” he said Thursday, implying that he got lost. “I’ve gotta save that for later.”
After going shopping with his two daughters in Soho, Vigneault, the former Vancouver Canucks coach, who is commencing his first season with the New York Rangers, won’t be telling future stories about escapades in the famous district, either.
“We did this little tour there one day and I told them when I came back, on the subway that it was my last time,” he said. “I’m not doing it anymore. They’ll go, but not with their dad.”
Vigneault previously lived within a short walk of Rogers Arena, where the Canucks play and practice. But he has had difficulty getting used to long commutes to practices in the suburbs and games downtown from his home on New York’s Upper West Side.
Although he can look forward to much shorter road trips with the Rangers than he endured with the Canucks, he has logged many more miles on his current vehicle than he did with promotional vehicles supplied to him while in Vancouver.
“When I’d bring a vehicle back (every six months), it would have anywhere from 1,500 kilometres to, maybe, 2,000 if I had gone to Whistler with somebody,” he said. “Well, I had been in New York for two full weeks and my new car has got 1,000 miles on it, because I’m 25 miles from the practice facility, so it’s a different pace.”
Vigneault was back in Vancouver for a pre-season game against the Canucks. A morning skate was his first public appearance here since being fired by the Canucks last spring after they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
It was almost, but not quite, like old times as he stood in the same room, at the same podium, where he had held many press briefings during seven seasons at the Canucks helm. But the usual backdrop bearing Canuck logos was covered by a new one sporting Ranger symbols.
He also wore a dark suit and open-collared shirt instead of the usual blue Canuck sweatsuit and grey tee-shirt that were common in his Vancouver tenure.
The return to the West Coast offered him a chance to talk to players, coaches, management staff and friends that he never had a chance to give thanks for support during his Canuck tenure, because his dismissal came while he was out of Vancouver and others had scattered at the end of the season.
His fondest memory with the Canucks?
“Hockey-wise, it’s obviously our trip to the Stanley Cup (finals),” he said. “But on a personal level, to see where those guys are as human beings, and as parents, as responsible adults, for me, (that) is probably the thing that I cherish the most.”
But Vigneault, who guided the Canucks to the seventh game of the 2010-11 Stanley Cup finals, back-to-back Presidents trophies in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and six Northwest Division crowns, declined to discuss his impact on the club.
“It’s not for me to say,” he said. “I took a lot of those players when they were just young guys coming into the league, and I think they’ve grown into mature players and mature fathers, most of them, and very good people.”
Vancouver players said he had a big impact on their careers. Defenceman Kevin Bieksa said Vigneault transformed the Canucks into an elite team while influencing young players like himself, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. He also made players earn every minute of their ice time.
“He was very fair that way, treated everybody equal and that was a good thing for us at a young age,” said Bieksa.
Vancouver veterans said new coach John Tortorella is more aggressive than Vigneault. But Vigneault, who replaced Tortorella with the Rangers, was still demanding.
“When he came in here, he made everybody accountable,” said Bieksa. “Star players were not treated like star players. Rookies and fourth-liners weren’t treated like that. Everybody was treated equal.”
Over time, Bieksa said, the team “grew up together” and eventually learned the right things to do and say.
Veteran forward Burrows, an undrafted free agent who according to Vigneault was “on the bubble” of being cut when he arrived, said the former Canucks coach was more analytical than Tortorella, who bases a decision more on a gut feeling than statistics.
“It’s two schools of mind,” said Burrows. “I don’t know if one’s better than the other one, but they both work. Hopefully, the gut one will work for us this year.”
Star forward Daniel Sedin said he has not seen much of the fiery Tortorella’s personality yet. But he expects him to be more volatile with players than Vigneault was.
“(Vigneault) didn’t come in and yell that much,” said Sedin. “Early on, he did. But these last four or five years, he left it up to us players to control the room, and I think we did a good job of that.
“But I think John is more of a hands-on guy. He’s going to come in between periods and after games. If you’re playing bad, you’re going to hear it. And if you’re playing good, you’re going to hear it, too. It’s more, I don’t know, honest, straight-forward.”
Sedin called Vigneault’s return “special” for the coach, but Vancouver players tried to keep their distance and treat their last exhibition contest before the regular season as just another game.
Any meetings with Vigneault were expected to be brief and after the game, but veterans had previously connected with him following his dismissal from the Canucks.
“We said our goodbyes, which is the right thing to do, and they’ve moved on—and I’ve moved on,” said Vigneault.