Bitten by the coaching bug
Former teammates Sylvain Lefebvre and Guy Carbonneau both now find themselves behind the bench.
MONTREAL - Back when Sylvain Lefebvre was patrolling the Canadiens blue line, how he was going to keep himself busy once his playing days were behind him was likely the furthest thing from his mind. Now 14 years later, he and former teammates Guy Carbonneau and Patrick Roy have each traded in their equipment bags for clipboards.
While he may not have just won a Memorial Cup like Roy, or been handed the Canadiens' coaching reins from Bob Gainey like Carbonneau, Lefebvre is getting his feet wet as a coach at the Junior Triple-A level with the Champlain College Cougars.
Lefebvre's 14-year NHL career, which began with the Canadiens in 1989-90, also included stints with the Maple Leafs, the Nordiques/Avalanche and the Rangers. A reliable stay-at-home defenseman, Lefebvre is now passing on his wealth of experience to his young team.
"Working with these players has been an amazing experience," said the 38-year-old Lefebvre. "Seeing their progression from when they first arrived to now has been really special."
No player in his Cougars' lineup exemplifies that more than Martin Nolet. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman has blossomed under Lefebvre both on and off the ice, culminating with his recently earning a 2005-06 Guy Lafleur Award of Merit. In recognition of his solid play and outstanding academic achievements, Nolet received a $1,000 scholarship.
"Martin has really come into his own as a player and more importantly as a person," said Lefebvre of his 19-year-old blueliner, who is ranked 100th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 2006 Entry Draft on June 24 in Vancouver. "As a coach, I do all I can to arm these kids with the tools to succeed not only in hockey, but in life.
"Something I came to realize during my career was that the values, mindset and work ethic needed to succeed at the NHL level are the same basic principles that will lead to success anywhere life may take these kids."
Lefebvre, Roy, and Carbonneau aren't the only members of the 1991-92 Canadiens to have found themselves spending a portion of their retirement years behind the bench. Other former teammates to have tried a hand at coaching include Denis Savard, Stephan Lebeau, Donald Dufresne, Brian Skrudland, Roland Melanson, Gilbert Dionne, Chris Nilan, and Kirk Muller.
According to Lefebvre, look no further than the Canadiens head coach at that time for a reason why so many of his players reached out for a clipboard when their playing days were over.
"What else can you really say about playing for a coach like Pat Burns?" shrugged Lefebvre about Burns, the only benchboss in league history to win three Jack Adams Trophies as Coach of the Year. "I can only hope that someday I can impact a player the way Pat did for me over the course of my career."
The feeling was obviously mutual, as Burns not only guided Lefebvre as a raw rookie from 1989-90 through 1991-92 with the Canadiens, but also managed to bring him along to Toronto where Burns coached him with the Maple Leafs from 1992-94.
As for his career aspirations, Lefebvre is happy where he is right now, but hopes his first coaching stint is only the beginning.
"The game has given me so much that it feels really good to give something back," said Lefebvre, a Stanley Cup winner with Colorado in 1995-96. "I think that's the case for all the guys I played with over the years like Carbo and Patrick. Staying in and around hockey just feels right."
Watching Roy win the Memorial Cup last month also seemed natural to Lefebvre.
"When he decided to take over as head coach I was as shocked as everyone else," admitted Lefebvre. "But knowing him as well as I do, seeing him succeed wasn't a surprise at all. That's just Patrick being Patrick."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com