Pascal Vincent waited 12 years before realizing his dream of becoming a head coach in the National Hockey League. Twelve seasons working as an assistant with the Winnipeg Jets, head coach of their school club, then associate coach for two years in Columbus.
The press conference to announce his hiring, Monday noon, should have been entirely devoted to him, but the organization’s decision to hire, a few months earlier, a coach, Mike Babcock, expelled from the NHL for his torture and sometimes cruel, darkened his day of glory.
Babcock was abruptly fired last weekend following a joint investigation by the NHL and the Players’ Association. He allegedly asked his players to provide them with the contents of their cell phones to get to know them, but some reacted badly to this intrusion into their private lives.
Pascal Vincent opted for sobriety in front of the Columbus journalists. To prattle on or bring up an old dream would obviously not have been in good form in the circumstances.
“The last few days have been difficult,” said Vincent. Difficult, these last three days, don’t get me wrong. What do you do in such circumstances? You move forward. »
The players deserve the coaches to be ready for the start of training camp, and we will be.
Babcock’s hiring on 1er July had however aroused a lot of skepticism due to methods which earned him his dismissal in Toronto in November 2019.
“Maybe these people were right,” admitted Blue Jackets president John Davidson pitifully. However, we did a lot of research, we interviewed a lot of credible people in the industry and met Mike several times. He came to my house in Columbus. Still, we wandered. I understand the criticism. They are deserved. I am very disappointed. This is one of the most difficult moments of my long career. We will learn from our mistakes. »
“We are lucky”
The story was broken last week by the former player and host of the popular podcast Spittin’ Chiclets Paul Bissonnette, who says he has received confidences from players to this effect. The NHL and the Players’ Association were quick to react.
“I got a call from (commissioner) Gary Bettman and his staff, including Bill Daly on Friday,” Davidson revealed, during the rookie tournament in Traverse City. We quickly digested the information and Jarmo (Kekäläinen, general manager of the Blue Jackets) and I met with Mike Babcock. Our decision was inevitable. There was no other solution. We are former players, this was not going to go down with our players. »
Kekäläinen was contrite, like his president.
“I had a meeting with the players this morning and apologized to them. I am extremely disappointed with the events of the last week. I thought Mike deserved another chance. It was a mistake and I take responsibility for it.
“Even if there was no bad faith on his part, players were not comfortable with his methods. Mike and I also shared photos to get to know each other and I was comfortable with the process, but some of our players were not, and they should be treated with respect at all times. Are we perfect? No. Can we do better? Yes. »
Vincent, coach of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles from 1999 to 2008, then of the Montreal Junior from 2008 to 2011, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, had almost obtained the position this summer, revealed Kekäläinen.
“Pascal was a serious candidate and we are lucky to have him to lead our team, even if we did not put him in an easy situation. It’s sad to talk about all this right now because I haven’t been this excited about our team in a long time. We have a solid bank of prospects. »
The Blue Jackets have a core consisting of defenseman Zach Werenski and forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine and Boone Jenner. They have a lot of talented young players, including this summer’s third overall pick Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger and defenseman David Jiříček, all high draft picks.
I have the advantage of knowing the players. I have been working with them for two years. We have a good locker room. This is not a problem.
The new Blue Jackets coach will not have any major adjustments to make. “Mike and I had a lot of meetings this summer to prepare for the season and we were on the same page.
“We had a good relationship. He is a very good coach. The system will therefore be essentially the same as what was discussed, and different from that of last year. We will have a fast, disciplined, hard-working team. »
Pascal Vincent becomes the fourth French-speaking head coach in the NHL after André Tourigny (Arizona Coyotes), Jim Montgomery (Boston Bruins) and Martin St-Louis (Montreal Canadiens).