The Montreal Canadiens were busy off the ice again this week: another coach was sent packing, and a new one was hired, Cole Caufield continued his torrid scoring and helped lead his team to the NCAA Final 16, a Habs legend celebrates their birthday, and we all mourn the loss of hockey greatness.
Canadiens’ Fire Goalie Coach Waite
During the second intermission of the Canadiens’ game against the Ottawa Senators on March 2, general manager Marc Bergevin fired goaltender coach Stephane Waite. Waite had been a member of the Canadiens since 2013 and was instrumental in helping Carey Price become one of the world’s best goaltenders. Bergevin wooed Waite from the Chicago Blackhawks, where the pair had previously worked together.
Waite thought he was safe from being let go when then-head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller were dismissed last week. According to Waite, he was blindsided by the move and was working to improve Price’s game. Bergevin said that Price was not aware of the move until after the fact. Bergevin stated, “The day that I work like that, I’m not the right guy for the job,” when asked if he consulted Price before releasing Waite. (from ‘Canadiens GM says Carey Price had no input in decision to fire coach,’ The Telegram, 03/04/2021)
Waite’s dismissal was announced an hour after the Canadiens 3-1 win over the Senators, which clouded the first NHL win for Habs interim head coach Dominique Ducharme, who also wasn’t a factor in Bergevin’s decision to release Waite.
Canadiens Hire Burke as Director of Goaltending
With Waite’s dismissal, the Canadiens stayed within their ranks and promoted western scout Sean Burke to Director of Goaltending. Burke is a former NHL goaltender who played with nine NHL teams, including the New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canauks and Arizona Coyotes. He also helped Canada win silver at the 1986 World Junior Championship, gold at the Canada Cup in 1991, silver at the 1992 Olympics, and two gold medals at the World Ice Hockey Championship in 1997 and 2003.
Before joining the Canadiens, he was the director of prospect development, assistant to the GM and goaltender coach for the Arizona Coyotes. In 2018 he was named GM of Team Canada for the 2018 Winter Olympics where they won bronze.
Burke was in the United States at the time of his hiring and will have to quarantine for 14 days before joining the team. In the meantime, the Laval Rocket’s goaltending coach Marco Marciano will work with the Canadiens goaltenders on the ice; until Burke arrives, he will have daily internet meetings with the goalies.
Caufield Leads Wisconsin to Big 10 Season Title
Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield helped lead his team, the Wisconsin Badgers, to their first title in 21 years. Caufield scored both goals in the 2-1 season finale victory over Michigan State. The Badgers will now go on to play in the final 16 to determine the NCAA champion.
Caufield not only led his team to the championship but also led the entire NCAA in scoring. He finished the season with 25 goals and 46 points in 28 games, and his 25 goals were nine more than the next player, Connor Ford, who had 16. (from ‘Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield finishes NCAA regular season in style,’ Montreal Gazette, 03/07/2021) In what could be his last season in the NCAA, Caufield is the clear favourite to win the Hobey Baker Award for top NCAA hockey player. Caufield will now set his sights on the National Championship, and once his season is finished, he could sign a contract with the Canadiens.
Hockey Loses a Dad
The hockey community lost one of its greatest ambassadors this week with the death of Walter Gretzky. Gretzky was the father of legend and Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky but was known as Canada’s hockey dad. Walter Gretzky was known all over Canada as one of the kindest and friendliest people around, always taking the time out for everyone he met.
Shortly after his 53rd birthday Walter Gretzky suffered a brain aneurysm that impaired his short-term memory, which left him with no memory of some of his sons Wayne’s greatest accomplishments; over the years, Walter Gretzky has been involved in several charities, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and his own charity program known as the SCORE program (Summer Computer Orientation Recreational Education) which teaches blind people computer skills.
Walter Gretzky was 82 at the time of his death and will forever be missed by the greater hockey community.
Dick Irvin Jr. Celebartes a Birthday
Canadiens legend Dick Irvin Jr. celebrated his 89th birthday this week. Irvin Jr. is the son of late Canadiens head coach Dick Irvin Sr. who helped lead the Habs to three Stanley Cups. Irvin Jr. is a legendary Montreal sports broadcaster who joined the CBC in 1966 as the colour commentator for then-play-by-play announcer Danny Gallivan as well as being the Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) studio host from the late 1970s to early 1980s.
Irvin would replace Gallivan as the play-by-play announcer when Gallivan retired in 1984 for regional games in Montreal and second colour commentator for national games. He himself retired in 1999 and was the longest-serving member of HNIC; he would return to the booth on several occasions after his retirement, including a memorial return for the Canadiens centennial pre-game ceremony in 2009. Happy Birthday, Mr. Irvin.
It was a wild week again for the Canadiens, with firings and hirings, deaths, birthdays and championships. I guess fellow Canadiens Hockey writer Melissa Boyd was wrong when she thought this week would unlikely be as eventful as last week; then again, she did say anything is possible in Montreal after all.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.