(photo: The Canadian Press)
Three makes a pair, as they say. First Trevor Linden was announced as President of Hockey Operations. Then Jim Benning became the General Manager. And now the trio is complete as Willie Desjardins takes the position of Head Coach, the Vancouver Canucks announced Monday. Desjardins will become the 18th Head Coach in club history.
Fresh off a win behind the bench as Head Coach of the 2014 Calder Cup Champion Texas Stars, the 57-year-old Saskatchewan native is no stranger to turning a team around and leading them to success. He joined the Texas Stars on June 13, 2012 and in his first year with the team he led the Stars to their first ever South Division regular season title and they became the number one seed in the Western Conference for the 2013 playoffs. The following season, Desjardins led the team to win the 2014 Calder Cup, defeating the St. John’s Ice Caps in a Game 5 overtime victory. Additionally, Desjardins was named the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s Coach of the Year for the 2012-13 season.
“Willie Desjardins has won at every level and we believe he’ll be an excellent fit as we strive to return to the playoffs and build with youth for long-term success,” said Jim Benning, General Manager, Canucks Sports & Entertainment in a statement release by the club Monday. “Willie is a great teacher, motivator and communicator; his teams have competed with a style of play we believe will help us compete in our division and in the playoffs. With Willie’s leadership behind the bench we look forward to bringing back this team’s winning qualities and our fans’ passion and excitement for the Canucks.”
Desjardins boasts NHL experience, holding coaching jobs with the Dallas Stars from 2010-12. On the international stage, Desjardins has represented Canada several times. Once as Head Coach in 2010 (silver) and also as Assistant Coach in 2009 (gold) at the World Junior Championships. Interestingly, he also served as Head Coach (2002-2010) and General Manager (2005-2010) of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. Franchise player and now-President Trevor Linden famously started his career with the Tigers from the 1985-86 season through to 1987-88. In 1998, Linden would join the Canucks and would later have his number retired to the rafters of Rogers Arena. Conversely, Desjardins led the Tigers to two Memorial Cup Tournaments and to the Memorial Cup Final in 2007.
“I didn’t take this job without doing my research,” said Desjardins at a news conference in Vancouver Monday, a nod to the pressure of performing in a rabid hockey market. “I like this team and I like the roster. I know the skill level here. I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time.”
Desjardins is not short of support from prominent coaches in the league, either. Fellow Saskatchewan native Mike Babcock had something to say about the hiring when asked at a Hockey Canada news conference Monday afternoon in Vancouver.
“Oh, me and Willie go way back,” smiled Mike Babcock, Team Canada Head Coach. When pressed about the decision to have Desjardins at the helm of the Vancouver club, Babcock spoke volumes of Desjardin’s character and commitment to the game. He even joked that the new Head Coach spent some time living in Babcock’s basement many years back.
A number of hockey careers have started in basements, including Sidney Crosby who was ironically sat next to Babcock as he made his remarks.
Desjardins might be onto something.