VANCOUVER – Alain Vigneault was in a place he never expected to be Wednesday.
The Vancouver Canucks coach said he never expected to be sitting in a room full of reporters on the morning of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins. Vigneault made reaching the final the club’s goal from the first day of training camp, but he never expected to get there—as a player or bench boss—in his younger days.
“I quickly realized that my potential as a player was real limited, so unless I played for a real good team, I wasn’t going to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup,” said Vigneault, who played just 42 games with the St. Louis Blues in a pro playing career that lasted just four seasons.
“When I started my coaching career at the Tier II (junior) level, it was basically just to give something back to the community. I made it to the NHL as a player because of some great volunteers, and I wasn’t really thinking at that time I was going to make coaching my career.”
Vigneault’s Tier II success led to coaching jobs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Trois Rivieres and Hull, and an assistant’s post with the Ottawa Senators. After serving as a head coach with the Beauport Harfangs, he took the helm of the Montreal Canadiens, where he won NHL coach of the year honours in 2000. But less than a year later, he was fired 20 games into his fourth season with the Habs and was forced to go back to the QMJHL and the minors with Vancouver’s American Hockey League farm club in Winnipeg before he got another chance to coach in the NHL with the Canucks in 2006-07.
“Now, after almost 25 years of coaching, I’m finally getting a chance to play for the Stanley Cup,” he said. “So I’m really excited. When you get in this business, you’re not quite sure how long you’re going to be in it. It’s not an easy business to get into, it’s not an easy business to stay into, and it’s not an easy business once you’re out of the NHL to get back in.
“I’m going to appreciate this moment and enjoy the time.”
The 50-year-old Gatineau, Que., has brought in his two daughters and best friend from out of town for the occasion. But other friends and relatives weren’t invited.
“I’ve kept it to a real limited group,” he said. “I want to stay focused on what we need to do here.”
Notes: Canucks centre Ryan Kesler, who played for the U.S. in the 2010 Winter Olympics, says the Stanley Cup final rank as the highest level of competition he has reached. “Obviously, the Olympics was one of the biggest stages I’ve ever played on—I believe this is bigger.”