Richer for the experience

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Losing his coach a week before training camp has actually put a smile on Charlie Henry's face.

"I'm super happy for him," Henry, the governor/director of hockey operations for the Gatineau Olympiques, said yesterday. "He deserves it."

Benoit Groulx's long overdue promotion to pro hockey came with his hiring as coach of the AHL's Rochester Americans by Florida Panthers GM Jacques Martin, who earlier this off-season threw his first wrench into Hockey Canada's plans by signing Peter DeBoer to coach the organization's parent club.

Replacing Groulx at the helm of the Olympiques will be Mario Richer, a former Gatineau Intrepide midget AAA coach who spent six seasons in the QMJHL as an assistant, including two stints stationed with the 'Piques.

Meanwhile, the process of filling Groulx's side job is well under way.

Slated to stand behind Canada's bench four months from now at the world junior championship in Ottawa, Groulx leaves high and dry a position he has held since June. The last time Hockey Canada was spurned in such fashion was in August 1998, when current Belleville Bulls coach George Burnett quit as national junior team boss to join the Anaheim Mighty Ducks as an assistant.

QUINN BEHIND BENCH?

Speculation as to who will succeed Groulx as coach of a Canadian team looking for its fifth consecutive gold medal has centred around assistant coach Willie Desjardins and the legendary Pat Quinn.

Quinn, an NHL coach for 19 seasons, was the bench boss of the Canadian team that won gold at the under-18 world championship last April in Russia.

Desjardins has coached the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers for the last six seasons.

Henry thought he'd be losing Groulx a couple of months ago, after the latter guided the Olympiques to their third Memorial Cup in six years.

"Jacques did his homework, and I'm fine (with the timing)," said Henry, who's in Victoriaville for league meetings.

"We eventually knew Ben would leave, and nothing has started yet for us.

"I understand he had to take the job. When opportunity knocks, you have to jump in."

While Groulx was not returning calls yesterday, neither was Richer. In fact, even though the team announced his hiring in a release yesterday, the new coach will not be available to the media until the team golf tournament Tuesday.

Richer was an assistant with the Olympiques from 2001-06 before leaving to take the head job at Harrington College, leading the team to a title in the America East Hockey League.

'HAS TO PROVE HIMSELF'

Apparently, Richer returned to Gatineau as an assistant last season with the hopes of taking over for Groulx when he left.

"He has to prove himself and he's going to have an opportunity to do that with a good organization, just like Claude Julien, Pat Burns, Alain Vigneault, Benoit Groulx and everybody else," said Henry. "If he works hard and believes in the philosophy of the organization, I think it will work. But only time will tell."

Henry believes the 40-year-old Groulx has a promising future.

"Jacques is really smart, hiring Pete DeBoer and now Ben," he said. "They were two coaches at the top of the class in junior hockey. That's a recipe for success.

"I'm not worried about Ben. I think some day he'll be a coach in the NHL."


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