"First of all, I never thought I would stay this long. I was pleased and impressed with the fans and the people living in Minnesota. I have to say the same thing for my wife. It's a place that she loved. She was calling Minnesota her home. It was great. It's sad to leave, but we have to do it."
- Jacques Lemaire
"I still love coaching," Lemaire said. "I'm going to work and I want to stay in the game, that's for sure. I still believe I've got a few years. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I want to stay in the game."
“I think it’s time for the players to get a new coach and myself look at other stuff,” Lemaire said.
Will you coach elsewhere? “I’ll see. It’s exciting. It’s an exciting job. I was behind the bench there just before the game there, and I felt I was getting really tight because it’s something I’ve done for 15 years and I like it and I have to go.”
Reading Russo's comments on the how and why, I devoutly hope this didn't go down because Risebrough laid the "blame" for his own inability to put together a sufficiently-talented team at Lemaire's (system's) feet.
Yes, it appears there were other issues brewing that would have more directly impacted Lemaire's feelings about coaching, but they point to impacting his feelings about coaching this team, and in this organization. Regardless of the closed-door discussions between GM and head coach over the season, Riser would be well-served to remember that it was when Lemaire - and not himself - signed on that the then-expansion team garnered its first piece of credibility.
And it sure wasn't Riser that coaxed the 291 wins out of the motley collection of players, nor the three playoff appearances, two series wins or one division championship. I would bet my eldest child that Riser, if he had been the head coach of the rosters he put together, would not have put together the same resume of success behind the bench with the Minnesota Wild as his pal Lemaire did.
But enough of the speculation.
It's time to celebrate the coach that Lemaire is, the job he did in Minnesota and his legacy in this franchise.
And let the rumors about his triumphant return to Montreal begin!
Here's what I will keep as my main memory of Lemaire. And who better than Ken Dryden to pen it for me?
"In the 2003 playoffs, there was a remarkable scene. The expansion Wild, in only their third year, had never made it to the postseason. They were up against the former champion and one of the Stanley Cup favorites, the Colorado Avalanche. It was the seventh game. The game went into overtime. It was on the road in Denver, against Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, and Patrick Roy, and the Wild scored. Their players leaped over the boards in celebration; one camera stayed back on Lemaire and Tremblay behind the bench. The former teammates turned to each other. Mario, his middle-aged body now thicker, his hair turning grey, had on his face his same little boy's look of glistening, beaming, eye-popping wonder. Jacques, with his round, crinkly, Pillsbury Dough Boy face that would always fool you, that made you believe he wasn't to be taken seriously, especially at serious moments like the playoffs, especially for serious tasks like scoring big goals, killing penalties and winning. Especially, years later, for serious jobs like coaching. As a coach, he had always hidden that face behind a stern, serious, implacable one. Until now. When that goal went in, his mouth flew open, his Pillsbury Dough Boy look was back.
At every other coach's moment of celebration I had seen, there had been hugging and jumping up and down. But Jacques and Mario left that for their team. They knew that this moment belonged to the players. For Jacques and Mario, it was something quieter, more private. They were like parents, bursting with pride, trying to keep it all inside. And failing. The look they shared said it all: Can you believe this?! Can you believe we just beat Colorado?!"
- Ken Dryden, The Game