Former Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois is photographed with his wife, Michèle, and their daughters, Patricia-Rose (left) and Alexandra, in May 2011 with (from left) the Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Stanley Cup and Art Ross Trophy. Brisebois left his job as the Canadiens player development coach on July 17, 2014, a position he held for two years, citing his desire to spend more time with his family.
Photograph by: Bob Fisher
MONTREAL — It was two years and a month ago that Patrice Brisebois sat on a downtown sidewalk café and spoke for an hour about returning to the Canadiens family.
Every so often, Brisebois would come up for air, his stream of consciousness coming in long, enthusiastic breaths. Then two years out of hockey, he had just been hired by the Canadiens as the team’s player development coach, charged by general manager Marc Bergevin with the responsibility of mentoring the team’s freshly drafted prospects and those already in the minor-pro pipeline.
Last Thursday, it was quietly announced that Brisebois was leaving the position, having fulfilled a contract year and another season that had been an option beyond that.
From Brisebois came not a word to the media, the Canadiens explaining briefly when asked that it was the former player’s choice, made for family reasons.
On Tuesday, Brisebois left me a message, apologizing for not having returned a call, saying that he hadn’t felt much like talking a few nights earlier when his cell nearly melted from those trying to reach him.
We spoke for a half-hour on Tuesday evening, and I listened to the voice of someone who had enormously enjoyed his first experience in coaching.
But Brisebois also spoke as a family man who had missed his wife and two young daughters tremendously during many days and weekends alone on the road the past two years.
After fulfilling his contract, his last duties performed at the Canadiens’ recent development camp in Brossard, Brisebois let Bergevin know he was leaving the job, giving his boss a few months to find a replacement.
“For sure, it was a big decision (to leave) and I’m fine with it, very comfortable with it. I think I made the right choice,” Brisebois said. “It was a family decision.
“I really enjoyed my two years. I’ll always be proud to work for the Montreal Canadiens and as an ex-hockey player, it’s always something special to work for the Canadiens.
“I learned a lot the last two years and I think I’m a better hockey man now. When you work with those people — with Marc or (assistant GMs) Rick Dudley or Larry Carrière — they have a lot of experience. Just listening to those people, you learn a lot.”
Brisebois was thrilled two years ago to return to the Canadiens family. He’d been on skates since age 4 and fulfilled a dream by playing for the Habs, having competed in three Memorial Cup tournaments and won two world junior gold medals for Canada before arriving in the NHL, playing 1,107 games.
Brisebois played 16 of his 18 seasons for Montreal, the other two deep in his career with Colorado before finishing as a Canadien, and as a 22-year-old he won the 1993 Stanley Cup.
He retired from the game before the start of the 2009-10 season, the Canadiens not offering him a contract for that season, and he wept at the Bell Centre that Sept. 24 when he accepted the team’s Jean Béliveau Award for community involvement, announcing his retirement as he did.
For the next two years, Brisebois kept busy with other projects: he participated in CBC’s Battle of the Blades, made a goodwill visit to Canadian troops in Afghanistan, worked the 2011-12 season as a hockey analyst for TVA, coached in TVA’s hockey reality series La Série Montréal-Québec, toured generously with fellow former Habs for alumni charity games and, in the summertime, raced his own NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Dodge Avenger in events in this province.
But Brisebois jumped — in discussion with his wife, Michèle, and preteen daughters Alexandra and Patricia-Rose — at Bergevin’s player-development coaching offer in June 2012.
Brisebois would be on the road constantly, spending time with the Hamilton Bulldogs, then parachuting into cities across the continent to work with the team’s prospects, both the blue-chippers and those who are longer-term projects.
“They’re all different, they all have their own styles, situations, character, different ways of thinking about the game,” Brisebois said. “That’s why I say I’m a better hockey man. Spending time with those kids, you learn a lot. You want to know everything about them.
“Is their school is going well? Had they just broken up with a girlfriend? How was life for them at home? There were a lot of things. You have to know your kids as individuals and know the way you’ll talk to them.
“Sometimes, if the kid isn’t playing well, there’s a way to tell him you’re not happy, but you want to know why. It’s not finding excuses, there are only excuses for losers. But it’s finding solutions. It’s communication with the kid, asking questions, giving good advice.
“I always told my kids, ‘Talent isn’t enough. If you want to make it, it’s the work ethic.’ They all know that and they’re all working hard.”
Brisebois would find himself in Hamilton for a stretch, then a weekend in Denver, another in Michigan, another in Vancouver, then back in Hamilton. It’s one thing to travel with a team, he said, the club your extended family on the road; it’s quite another for a sociable person to be constantly on the move solo, seeing many airports, hotel rooms and lobbies and coffee shops alone.
As much as he enjoyed the work — Brisebois said he loved working with young players who were sponges for everything they could soak up, and especially the sessions in Hamilton planning practices with the staff there — the 43-year-old also deeply missed his wife and daughters, the girls now 14 and 11.
“It was a big satisfaction seeing those (players) getting better, but I have a beautiful family, two beautiful girls,” he said.
Brisebois scoffs at those who say he quit the Canadiens when he wasn’t hired to replace outgoing assistant coach Gerard Gallant, who recently was hired as head coach of the Florida Panthers.
“No, no, no,” he said. “I’m so happy for Gerard, he really deserves his new job. He’s a great coach and a great guy. And his job in Montreal was more with the forwards and the power play. J.J. (Daigneault) has the defence. When I hear people say I left because I didn’t get Gerard’s job, I just say, ‘Holy cow, it’s not for that reason.’
“Marc was surprised when I told him I was leaving,” Brisebois added, choosing not to elaborate on that. “But my family deserves that I be home more often. My only priority is my family.”
Brisebois also had taken a hard look at his future with the Canadiens and for as far as he could see, he didn’t view much room to move up.
“The team is doing very well, everybody is signed everybody for two, three years,” Brisebois said. “In Hamilton it’s same thing. Even if the Bulldogs don’t have a winning record, those guys were working so hard. I know the kids are going in the right direction, I’m 100-per-cent positive of that.
“How many years will I have to do that (development) job before I get an opening? In hockey, you never, never know, but you can’t be promised anything.
“It’s a question of timing and a lot of things. If the team keeps playing as it is and keeps getting better, Marc is going to keep his staff for a long time. And good for them, because they deserve it.”
So for this summer, Brisebois will spend quality time with his family and enjoy a little of another love. He’s raced one NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event this season, behind the wheel of the Dodge he owns that’s sponsored by Jiffy Lube and Quebec’s egg producers, and he’ll run at Trois-Rivières next month and perhaps another race later on.
“I have no regrets,” Brisebois said about his two years sharing his knowledge of the game with many Canadiens of tomorrow. “I gave it a shot. I gave it my best as I always do. A few players texted and called me and thanked me for what I did for them and I really appreciated that. That showed how close I was to the players.
“What happens in the future, I have no clue. Maybe I’ll be back in the organization, you never know. But now, to see my wife and my girls happy that I’m home, well, that makes me happy, too.”
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