Lemaire near win milestone

Star Tribune

Mention the past and Jacques Lemaire will wince, as though he’s in pain. Talk about personal accomplishment and he will almost literally push you away. Bring up the fact that he’s on the threshold of another milestone?

A shrug of the shoulders.

"One day I’ll do it," he said. "I’ll get together everything, what everyone said, what I did. I’ll put it on the wall and sit there when I’m about 72. I’ll look at it and think, ’Oh, I was OK.’ "

More than OK. A victory in one of the Wild’s final two games will give Lemaire, 62, his 500th career coaching victory. It will tie him for 11th in league history, right beside Montreal’s legendary Toe Blake, who coached Lemaire when Lemaire was a rookie in 1967-68.


It would make Lemaire the third coach to win his 500th game this season — San Jose’s Ron Wilson and Florida’s Jacques Martin preceded him. Lemaire also is the only person to play in 800 NHL games and coach in 1,000.

And, no matter what Lemaire might say, it would mean something to move into a tie with his first NHL coach.

"He won’t say it, but he will be proud of that," Wild assistant coach Mario Tremblay said. "He won’t talk about it — he’ll let others do that. But, inside, he will be proud."

With two games left, Lemaire has his team in the playoffs for the second year in a row and on the verge of a division title. Ask him about Thursday’s game with Calgary and he’ll go on and on. Ask him about his career and it’s a little tougher. But Lemaire is a man who played in one era and coached in another — and succeeded in both.

Danny Grant, for one, isn’t surprised. Grant, who made his NHL name with the North Stars from 1968 to ’74, was Lemaire’s minor league roommate in Houston. The two were called up to the Canadiens together for the 1967-68 season. The biggest difference?

"He played," Grant said. "I didn’t."

Is like Toe

But Grant sees a little of Blake — and of Scotty Bowman, who coached the Canadiens from 1971 to ’79 — in Lemaire.


"I see Jacques taking the best of Blake in how he handles himself," Grant said. "He still has a little of the old school. He demands a lot from his players. He’s a no-nonsense guy."

From Bowman? "Understanding of the game," Grant said. "Learning to have good people around him. Jacques has had a great career. I’d like to see him win the big one again. But again, he’s a cross between Scott and Toe, and the modern game. He’s been very smart to adapting to the modern-day player."

With that, he had no choice.

"In those days, coaching was not like it is today," Lemaire said. "They had great respect. In a way, half of it was respect, the other half was fear, if not 75-25. [Blake] was a guy who didn’t talk to you. You could walk right beside him and he wouldn’t say hello. He was that type of guy."

Mention Blake, and Lemaire remembers the fedora the legendary coach would wear. Or how Blake would always play cards with the reporters on the train between cities. And of how fair Blake was. Lemaire got the opportunity to play thanks to injuries to players such as Henri Richard. But when he played well, he stayed.

"Once he said to me, ‘Keep playing like this, even though Richard is going to come back, you’re going to play,’ " Lemaire recalled. "When he saw someone working and doing something he liked, he was playing."

Bowman not surprised

Bowman is another fellow not surprised to see Lemaire reach 500. "Look where Lemaire has coached and you’ll see a team where players got better," Bowman said. "He is a stickler for fundamentals."


In other words, Lemaire coaches like he played.

"He was one of the smartest players I ever had play for me," said Bowman, who coached nine Stanley Cup winners. "And one of the best two-way players I ever had.

"He could observe what was going on. When the team wasn’t playing well, he knew what was wrong. He was a stickler for passing the puck. That was his real thing."

Bowman remembers sitting down with Steve Yzerman shortly after joining Detroit in 1993 and telling the Red Wings captain he had to be more of a two-way player. You need to play more like Jacques Lemaire, Bowman said.

And now Lemaire is about to join that very elite group. Bowman is first all-time with 1,244 victories. Blake sits one victory ahead of Lemaire at an even 500.

"He puts his heart and soul into it," Tremblay said. "He takes the job so seriously. He’s so afraid to fail. That’s why he’s so well-organized all the time. He really believes in that. ... Jacques always knew the game so well as a player. He was always in the right spot. Now as a coach, he transferred that. He loves to teach. Guys listen to what he has to say, they will have success."

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