Johnson: Hartley ties idol on NHL career coaching wins list
Flames bench boss grew up watching Michel Bergeron and has learned plenty about the craft from him
Small, singularly feisty, outspoken, confrontational, mischievously charming. Like a vibrating tuning fork. Seemingly always on the verge of detonation.
“That’s what I loved about him,” laughs Bob Hartley of former NHL coach Michel Bergeron. “Passion. For me, that’s what this game is about.
“You can’t be successful in this business, I think, without passion. Some guys might believe it. I don’t.
“And Michel had plenty of passion.”
Thursday’s 4-1 decisioning of the San Jose Sharks was notable for something other than the hugely-anticipated return of Miikka Kiprusoff to the Calgary Flames’ cage. With that win, Hartley quietly took his place beside Bergeron on the all-time coaching wins bench, at 338.
For Hartley, that’s no mean feat.
“I have two coaches, they are my idols. No. 1 is Scotty Bowman. I saw him win so many Cups when I was cheering on the Montreal Canadiens as a kid. Obviously, I had the chance to coach against him. He’s the best. Period.
“And my second? Michel Bergeron. He played senior hockey in my hometown (Hawkesbury, Ont.) for my father-in-law. Then I remember his days in Trois-Riviereres, coaching the Quebec Major Junior team, and obviously he was a big, big attraction there.
“Then I kind of became a fan of the Quebec Nordiques because of Michel Bergeron. Hey, I love Stash (Peter Stastny) and Dale Hunter, too. But Michel, ahhh, he was special. A tiger. Let Petit Tigre, right?
“I have idols because I’m the kind of guy who believes in details, stuff like this. These guys leave an impression.
“I remember having lunches with Michel discussing coaching. Even when I was coaching in Laval once, Scotty came early to see Marty Lapointe, their first-round pick, and we talked. Those are conversations that stay with you. They certainly helped me.
“In my little coaching world, Scotty, Michel, those were the guys I looked up to.”
For those too young to remember, Michel Bergeron was among the most charismatic, quotable (whilst in charge of the Rangers, Bergeron was once asked by a New York journalist what 14 losses by one goal could possibly mean. “It means,” he replied, “that we’re in the basement”) personalties of an era.
Twice he guided the Nordiques to the conference finals, and the visceral rivalry between Quebec and the mighty Canadiens provided some of the finest, most uncompromising hockey of a decade.
Among other things, Bergeron holds the distinction of being the only coach ever to be traded. Openly feuding with Quebec GM Maurice Filion, the Nords swapped him to the Rangers for a first-round pick and $75,000.
Later on, long after Bergeron and the NHL had bid a mutual adieu, after Hartley had piloted the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup in 2001, the two men’s paths crossed again. They worked a number of RDS television Montreal Canadiens-related shows together after Hartley was let go by the Atlanta Thrashers and between coaching assignments, as well a reality gig three years ago that played up the beer-league hockey rivalry between Quebec City and Montreal.
“And you know what?” crows Hartley. “We were packing the Quebec Colisee for those games. It was so crazy we would get 1.2-1.3 million viewers on TV.
“So I coached that year with Bergy. It was a lot of fun.”
The Bowman influence — as well on virtually anyone of the last two decades who ever toted a whistle white board and a pair of skates — is one the Flames’ boss will happily acknowledge.
“I remember matching myself against Scotty during that Colorado-Detroit rivalry. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’d go over game tapes again and again, and I would write down every one of his line changes. Every one. Just to try and figure out Scotty Bowman. Which, of course, is impossible.
“When he started to coach, I was not even born. And all he did was win. Win, win, win.
“It was always a very uneven matchup. But I felt my team was as good as his team that time so I had to try and prepare my players well enough to win. When the game started, I had to forget that it was Scotty behind the other bench. But it was always great to watch his team practice, to watch his strategy during games, to try and measure up, you know?”
William Scott is out of sight, of course. In the tactician trade he resides alone, omnipotent, in a galaxy far, far away of his own making, at a never-to-be-toppled 1,244 coaching wins.
But if you can’t reel in one icon ...
“Hey,” pipes up Bob Hartley, in search of W No. 339 tonight at the Honda Center, a place that has become a virtual embalming oven for the Flames, “Michel Bergeron is pretty good company, too.
“I love Bergy. He had a great influence on me.
“It’s always an amazing feeling when you can be mentioned in the same breath as one of your idols.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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