Cup coaches will make history

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault speaks with the media in Vancouver, B.C., May 26, 2011. (ANDY...

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault speaks with the media in Vancouver, B.C., May 26, 2011. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:04 PM ET

BOSTON - No matter who won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, “l’histoire va s’accomplir.”

Yes, history will be made.

The 2011 Stanley Cup final is going to see two French-Canadian coaches oppose each other for the first time in Stanley Cup final history.

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien and Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault will both chase their first Cups -- it would be the first ever for the Canucks and the first for the Bruins since 1972 -- when the final gets underway Wednesday in Vancouver.

Julien earned his ticket with the Bruins after a thoroughly efficent 1-0 win Friday night over the Tampa Bay Lightning and head coach Guy Boucher. No matter which team had advanced to face the Canucks, the French tete-a-tete between the coaches was going to happen.

Julien, 51, and Vigneault, 50, have taken remarkably similar paths to this point. Two guys whose paths have crossed and recrossed in hockey’s small world now move onto its biggest stage.

The two were journeymen minor league players and were teammates in 1981-83 when both were gritty defencemen and property of the St. Louis Blues, playing for the Blues’ farm club in Salt Lake City, the Eagles.

Vigneault turned to coaching after four years grinding it out in the minors (42 NHL games played) while Julien slugged it out for a dozen (14 NHL games).

Julien ended up following Vigneault’s path through the coaching ranks. Vigneault coached the Hull Olympiques, for which he had played as a kid, from 1987-92 before being hired as a Senators assistant coach by current Vancouver assistant Rick Bowness.

After he retired as a player, Julien wound up coaching the Olympiques from 1997-2000.

Vigneault became coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 1997 until partway through 2001 (109-118-35-4).

Julien started behind the Habs bench in January 2003 and coached the team for three seasons (72-62-10-15).

They’ve each had their ups and downs, been fired and hired.

Two remarkably similar roads which bring them to hockey’s summit.

“Alain is a good friend,” said Julien. “We played together and we talk during the season. It’s great for the league (QMJHL) and for the organization (Hull).

“May the best win.”

“He comes from the other side of the bridge where I’m from,” said Vigneault, making reference to Julien growing up across the Ottawa River in Orleans. “He was a tough defenceman, good player, really good team guy. He spent a lot of time in the minors. He just loved the game.”

It’s a nice story which will likely be pointed out frequently in the build up to Wednesday’s opener, but Vigneault downplayed the significance of two French-Canadians leading their teams in the final.

“(It’s) probably just a coincidence. The reason that Claude and I are in the finals is because we’re coaching good teams and the players are from all over the world. Good players make good coaches.”

Did Boucher have an idea which team would prevail in the final?

“Both teams that make it there, to me, they are on even ground,” said Boucher, who showed a touch of class in defeat. “But one thing for sure, they are very well coached. You know, Claude, I coached against him in juniors. He’s always done a good job. I was always very happy for his success in the past, obviously not (Friday) night, but as he moves on, if there’s somebody who is going to beat us, that’s one guy I hope gets success.”

Vigneault and Julien also share something else in common.

Had both not had their teams find a way to win their respective Game 7s in the first round -- in overtime, no less -- they both might have been out of their jobs.

But their teams did find a way, beating ghosts and history and rivals, Julien’s Bruins beating the Montreal Canadiens and Vigneault’s Canucks the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions who had ended the Canucks’ seasons two springs in a row.

Now they’re here, two guys with roots on both sides of the Ottawa River, standing on opposite sides of a sheet of ice.

Allons y.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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