When Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning announced that Willie Desjardins would be succeeding Joe Tortorella as the team’s head coach, it was hard to decide which was more shocking- that the former AHL Texas Stars head coach had picked Vancouver over the also-interested Pittsburgh Penguins, or that two elite NHL organizations were fighting over, well, the head coach of an AHL team.
Take one glance at the 57-year-old Saskatchewan native’s resume, though, and it should clear up any confusion.
Since he was first hired as a coach at the University of Calgary in 1985, Desjardins has coached at every level of play- and has the awards and accolades to show for it. Most recently, he led the Texas Stars to their first-ever Calder Cup championship, which they won in five games against the St. John’s Ice Caps this June.
The year prior, he had been named the AHL coach of the year after leading the team to their first-ever division title. Under his direction, the Stars not only won a division championship and the Calder Cup, but were the 2013 No. 1 seed in the Western Conference of the AHL. Between 2002 and 2010, he led the Medecine Hat Tigers to the Memorial Cup tournament twice, and in 2010, he was Canada’s coach when they won the silver medal in the World Junior Championship.
His impressive coaching career isn’t the only reason Benning chose Desjardins for the job, though. During the press conference in which the decision was announced, the GM emphasized that Desjardins is known for being a ‘great motivator and communicator’. He expressed his confidence that under the new coaching direction, the Canucks would once again be cup contenders.
This is especially important to take note of, since the preceding coach, Joe Tortorella, was not especially known for his charisma and understanding demeanor with players. His one-year stint with the Canucks ended in his second early termination in as many years, so it’s unsurprising that the team’s new management would turn to a different kind of coach to replace him.