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The Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup 24 times with the 70s being an incredibly productive decade for them but once the 80s rolled in, it became tougher. They only managed to win it once in 1986 (losing in the final in 1989) and once in the 90s in 1993. Tomorrow will mark the 30th anniversary of their first win in the 1993 final, one which they might never have won had it not been for their heard coach’s guts.
With less than 2 minutes to go in the game and his Canadiens losing 2-1 and on being on the brink of going down 2-0 in the series, Jacques Demers took Guy Carbonneau’s advice and demanded that Marty McSorley’s stick be measured. The Kings’ enforcer’s stick was found to have an illegal curved and he was assessed a 2-minute penalty during which Eric Desjardins tied the game up with his 2nd of the game. Then, in overtime, Desjardins scored the game-winning goal to become the only defenseman to score a hat-trick in the Stanley Cup final.
The Habs then went on to win the next three games and lifted the Cup after game 5, the Kings never recovered from being so close to taking a 2-0 series lead and losing it in such a heartbreaking fashion. While it’s true that ultimately, it’s only the players on the ice that can win or lose a game, coaches can have a huge part to play.
Demers’ decision was the turning point in that series, but at times, a coach can also have a negative impact. Think back to the famous too many men penalty the Boston Bruins got in the 1979 Cup semifinal series, you can bet Don Cherry who coached Boston would have liked to turn back the clock a few seconds and delay that line change. That was the last game in which Cherry coached the Bruins, he moved on to take the helm of the Colorado Rockies for one season and that was the end of his coaching career.
On the Spitting Chicklets podcast, Martin St-Louis said that at times he still struggles to roll his lines, but his assistant coaches are there to keep him in check and help him in that process. Now with 119 games of coaching experience, St-Louis is very aware that he can still improve, and he still has things to learn. That’s the beauty of this hire for the Canadiens, just like his players are developing, so is the coach and if everything goes according to plan, by the time the Habs are competitive again, St-Louis will have matured as a coach and be ready to take on his more experienced opponents.
It’s quite possible that St-Louis will never have to make a call as important as the one Demers made in the Cup final in 1993, but he’s proving his importance to this team day in and day out by the time he spends one on one with each player, really coaching them and teaching them what they need to know personally, a team is only as good as the sum of its parts after all. Furthermore, the players love his coaching style and they are not shy of saying so, in time, this could also help attract top free agents in town when the time comes.