The Verdun Auditorium has gone through several major renovations in recent years, but beneath the surface are the roots of a coaching tree that has made its way to the Bell Centre.
Last week, the trickle down effect of the coaching changes throughout the Montreal Canadiens organization led to a new face, Maxime Vaillancourt, being added temporarily to the Laval Rocket coaching staff. That move is yet another branch on that tree.
In 2008, Pascal Vincent, now the head coach of the Manitoba Moose, hired two young coaches to his staff of the Montreal Junior. One was Dominique Ducharme, who coached junior AAA and university hockey. The other was a recently-retired NHL defenceman, Joël Bouchard. The three would work closely together and, in the case of Bouchard and Ducharme, was the start of not only a long working relationship, but of a real friendship.
In 2010, the Junior hired Marco Marciano, who previously worked for two other QMJHL teams and was the video coach for the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team that won a gold medal. He would work with Ducharme and Bouchard as the team’s goaltending coach. The next year, Ducharme would leave to coach the Halifax Mooseheads. Vincent would go to the NHL as a Winnipeg Jets assistant, and Bouchard would become part-owner and head coach of the Junior, who became the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada for the 2011-12 season.
For the 2012-13 season, Marciano went to the Hamilton Bulldogs, where he became the team’s video coach. He would continue to work with the AHL affiliate of the Canadiens through three cities to present day first as the assistant goaltending coach, and eventually to the main job.
Marciano’s departure from the Armada led to Bouchard hiring Vaillancourt. Vaillancourt and Marciano knew each other through goaltending camps and they were already on the same wavelength. Then in 2014-15, Bouchard hired former McGill University assistant Daniel Jacob to his Armada staff.
Meanwhile, Ducharme and Bouchard were building their resumes as the next generation of coaching talent to come from Quebec. They got the attention of Hockey Canada, and while Ducharme was the head coach of the 2017 and 2018 Canadian World Junior team, Bouchard was the team’s general manager.
After the team won gold in Buffalo, that off-season saw first Ducharme hired as an assistant to Claude Julien’s staff with the Canadiens. Later that summer, Bouchard was named head coach of the Laval Rocket.
Bouchard brought Jacob with him, and there was a question as to who he would name as the other assistant coach. In the end, 10 years after he was named a QMJHL assistant just after retiring, he returned the favour. Recently bought-out and considering his post-playing career, Alexandre Burrows would be the third coach on the bench. Bouchard would also be reunited with Marciano, who was still in the Canadiens organization.
By now you know how the story ends. Ducharme is now the head coach of the Canadiens, Burrows is one of his assistants. Marciano is working with the NHL team while Sean Burke — who did some work with him in Laval — quarantines. With both teams on the road, the Rocket would need someone to help out and a unique schedule in the QMJHL allowed for Bouchard to call on Vaillancourt. Bouchard is still part-owner of the Armada, and with a break for the team, worked out an agreement for Vaillancourt to help out. His relationship both with Bouchard and Marciano helped ease the transition.
“He’s part of the family,” Bouchard said of Vaillancourt. “He’s a natural, it was just a matter of working it out with the Armada.”
Burrows met with the media on Tuesday for the first time since being promoted. Within 10 minutes you could already hear the influence that the Rocket head coach had on him. From talking about how he received his “postdoctorate” in hockey, to saying that the players are the ones to hold the stick, you could see that Bouchard rubbed off on Burrows.
“When my friend Joël got the job in Laval, I was at the end of my career,” Burrows said. “The opportunity to be at home and learn with Joel who had six years in the QMJHL and learn how young players carry themselves in the AHL, how to teach them to play the right way.”
“When the train passes, you need to jump on,” Burrows said, adding that the opportunity to work in the Canadiens organization, close to home, was the perfect spot for him. He also said that he had other NHL offers in the past few years, but decided to stay in the Montreal area.
Burrows and Ducharme hadn’t worked together before, but the two had met through Bouchard, and because Bouchard and Ducharme work in similar ways, they got along as well.
When it comes to working together, Bouchard said that he and Ducharme are not just hockey buddies, and that helps them.
“Those are long-term relationships, you’re talking 10-12 years so it helps,” Bouchard said of the various branches of the tree. “With Dom, we talk about a lot of things. We talk all the time. It helps a little bit to be on the same page and to understand where we’re heading. When we were working me and Dom, we wouldn’t need to talk. We just looked at each other. We’d be meeting with 50 people doing presentations and we looked at our eyes and we just got it. There’s this chemistry that’s important. You don’t need to agree on everything all the time. You can have open discussion, but you need to have the same vision.”
“When someone says they want to play devil’s advocate and always brings something different than where we’re heading, that kind of slows down the process,” Bouchard said. “You have to all be on the same page and adjust and tweak and look at every angle, but you have to have a relationship.”
Often, you hear about a group of prospects coming up together at different levels. Coaches don’t often have that same path. There are a lot of coaches who choose to work together, but the Canadiens are using their personnel’s unique backgrounds to establish working relationships that have been developing for years.