SCOTTSDALE | Sitting Sunday morning in a crowded restaurant in a smart district of Scottsdale, André Tourigny has plenty of time to enjoy his meal and answer our questions. No handshakes from curious fans, no “hello, coach!” “.
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It’s in the most complete anonymity that the Arizona Coyotes driver looks back on the season ending, his first as head coach of the NHL.
For more than an hour, in an interview with The newspaper a few minutes from his home, Tourigny mingles with the crowd, neither seen nor known. A scene unthinkable in Montreal or other markets where hockey is king.
The only thing the “bear” ends up signing is not an autograph, but his bill. For someone who still describes himself as “a little guy from Nicolet”, it is far from disappointing not to be noticed more than any other guy.
“On the contrary! I’m much better off incognito, so it’s perfect here. I love the world, but I value my privacy. It’s not my style to try to be popular,” he insists after eating his typical plate, eggs and sausages.
“A gold mine”
With Tourigny, the discussion takes no twisted detour. Authenticity is undeniable. Asked about the potential of hockey in Arizona and his experience after a season there, he knows full well that his answer will not win him a popularity contest with hockey fans in Quebec.
“Here we are sitting on a gold mine,” he says recklessly.
“The people who are going to laugh at what I’m saying here are the same ones who are laughing at Vegas, Tampa, Florida, Carolina, Nashville … All that is needed is the right owners, we have that , and a well … located arena. “
“In Ottawa, the market is average, and yet it’s in Canada. Why? Because the team is losing, the arena is 35 minutes from downtown with a freeway and traffic. If that’s a big factor in Canada, imagine how big it is. in the southern United States, ”he continues, pointing to Glendale’s remote location from the center of the square, which rotates between Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe.
Challenge for athletes
While the NHL has found its way to many southern markets, Arizona is slow to follow suit after years of on-ice and box office failures. The club would lose about $ 30 million per season for a long time. However, the league continues to be stubborn, and with good reason, according to Tourigny.
“Phoenix has been the fastest growing city in the United States every year for the past 22 years. Come and spend a year here and you will understand,” he invites.
On our pages yesterday, the players’ agents suggested that with a temporary arena with 5,000 seats for the next three campaigns and the team’s failures, hockey players will avoid this market more than ever. An allegation that makes the man nicknamed the Bear smile.
“When people say players will never come and play here, that’s the biggest thing joke in the world ! Last year, everyone knew that we were on the road to a reconstruction, and yet it was the players who called us, rather than the other way around, ”he assures.
“The club is rebuilding and that is the real challenge for the players. We know that a Claude Giroux will not sign here. He is getting older and he wants to win. A player has the right to question our economic reality “and our ability to put a good club on the ice. It is certain that the players will ask themselves these questions and it is up to us to answer them as an organization to dispel their doubts,” he said.
Long live Tempe!
The Coyotes continue to hope that their $ 1.7 billion commercial development project, including an arena with 16,000 seats, will be approved by the city of Tempe.
“When we have our arena in Tempe, everyone wants to come and play here,” the 47-year-old says.
No, the coach is not giving up, the Coyotes are here to stay and break through in Arizona. Although he knows that in the eyes of fans in the hockey country where he comes from, it’s a bit like preaching in the desert …
A satisfactory balance
The team building process with three campaigns is well underway
Stock Photo, Martin Chevalier
André Tourigny led his troops to a convincing 6-3 victory over the Canadiens at the Bell Center on March 15th.
Not surprisingly, the rebuilding Coyotes have remained at the bottom of the position all season. In addition to the predictable results, André Tourigny is delighted to have been able to lay the foundation for the hockey culture he wants to establish.
In Arizona as in Montreal, the two clubs have crashed into a similar abyss. With a great deal of detail, he makes sure to emphasize Tourigny, at the end of a first campaign as a pilot of the Coyotes, from which he comes out with his head raised.
“The Canadians had just lost in the Stanley Cup final and their expectations were high. The rest of us knew we wanted to be there. Our concern was more to see if the guys would fight and work hard every night. »
“We wanted to create the right basis for educating our young people instead of rotting them in a bad culture. We are very happy with the way the season has gone in this sense, ”cheers the coach.
During the interview, a sentence keeps coming back. “I love to train,” he insists on several occasions.
Fortunately, for a coach accustomed to winning, the shock could have been brutal. In 15 years between Rouyn-Noranda, Halifax and Ottawa, the rider has only had two seasons with a loss record. He knew what he was getting into at the helm of the Coyotes.
“It’s a young team, but there are guys here who have experience. I can not go into the bedroom and demand victory at any cost. Guys will look at me sideways and show me the row. »
“When this team has to start winning one day, it will have the same attitude as it had in 2021-2022. We do not have the power, we do not have the talent, but we have the attitude I am looking for,” the man pleads, who says he is happy with 70 to 75 games this season.
Not only did Tourigny find himself in command of a reconstruction formation, but this one was unfortunate. In total, players have missed 539 games due to an injury, the second-highest total after Montreal.
No fewer than 11 athletes have been called up to play their first NHL game of their careers, a franchise high since the debut of its first league incarnation in Winnipeg in 1979-80. No wonder 303 goals against is a franchise record.
Patience is the key
Things can only get better next season with another year of experience and training in health, but Tourigny calls for patience and reminds that this is a three-year process, the same duration as his contract.
“The only way to go faster is through free agents. And it’s to me like putting one cast on a wooden leg! ” he launches in his colorful language.
“Of course, as a coach, you always risk not being there to reap the rewards, but you have to trust the process. If I’m gone in three years, I’m gone. I do not control that. My philosophy has always been to do what is good for the team. If I do what’s good for me as a coach, I can not expect my players to do what’s good for the team. »
COMMUNICATION: MORE THAN “X” S AND “O” S ON THE BOARD
Coaches today can no longer constantly enforce respect through fear. As for the great theorists of hockey, they also have a hard time reaching out to young people who need to communicate. André Tourigny believes that over time he has adapted well to this approach. “I do not see myself in a hockey business, but a human business. The difference is how you want to deal with people, how you want to treat them and be honest with them. “X” and “O”, there really are no more secrets at this level. Efficiency in teaching is important, but it is not as large a percentage of the job as it used to be. Most of the work is in communication, so the guys see the things that happen to them, ”he points out.
FAMILY: FAR FROM EYES, CLOSE TO HEART
Since settling in Scottsdale, André Tourigny has devoted 100% of his energy to the Coyotes. His wife, a nurse, stayed in the Ottawa area. Her three children did not follow, even though her daughter was visiting at the time of the interview. In addition, each in turn, lady and heirs came to his house. “In any case, the NHL schedule is very demanding. You’re on the go half the time, and when you get home there’s a lot of work. You have some time to yourself. It’s hard, but I’ve seen them on different times of the year.They quickly realize that it is a beautiful place! smiles the man who took advantage of his rare free time to enjoy a hobby he loves, namely hiking.
If Tourigny has one regret, it is that he had not had the opportunity to end his last junior season with the Ottawa 67s with the Memorial Cup .— The coach led his troops to a brilliant record of 50-11-1, which earned Ottawa ranked first in their division. Not one team on the Ontario Tour came within nine points of the 67s at the time of the shutdown due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The series has been canceled, which Tourigny still has a hard time digesting, even two years later. “I have coached very good teams in my career, but how often do you have a real chance to win everything? That year we had everything to ourselves. I still often think about it, ”he regrets.