Why is Canucks coach smiling?

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

There are a number of reasons why the Vancouver Canucks find themselves perched atop the Northwest Division and riding a seven-game winning streak heading into tonight's confrontation with the Minnesota Wild.

Most of them have been chronicled in some detail in this space previously. I'm not sure the guy behind the bench however, has been getting the props he deserves.

When you think NHL head coach, the image most commonly conjured up is not that of an individual who seems to be having a really good time.

There are line changes to be made, officials to bait and players to be pushed. It is a high-pressure position, with little time to enjoy the moment, because there is another period to be played, another game to be played and more lofty expectations to be met. Think of all the really successful men who have made a living out of trying to win hockey games. There's Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Pat Quinn, Jacques Lemaire and Marc Crawford to name a few.

How many of those guys look like they are really having a blast?

I know that isn't part of the job description. They aren't behind the bench to giggle their way through three periods of hockey. They have a job to do. But have you caught a glimpse of Alain Vigneault on more than one occasion this year where he is has been actually smiling? Most recently it was during the shootout against Florida, and prior to that, after Alex Burrows finally scored his first goal of the season in Calgary. And don't forget the post-game media conference back in November where he completely lost it when attempting to explain why his team could not score goals. He was howling!

Talk about a breath of fresh air, and don't think for a moment it isn't noticed, and appreciated, by the players. Kelly Hrudey said earlier this week on the Team 1040 morning show that players take their cue from the head coach. He is the individual that sets the tone for everything, especially what happens on the ice. Don't get the mistaken impression that Vigneault isn't all business. Do get the impression the man realizes it's okay to be human once in a while. And what I think has developed here is a much more relaxed atmosphere than in previous years. Think about the jobs you have had in your life, and think about the ones you have enjoyed the most. Chances are you had a boss you liked.

Alain Vigneault hasn't sewn up the Coach of the Year honour just yet. He will certainly be in the running if the Canucks can continue to win more than they lose. And I really believe the measure of the man has been reflected not by the recent success of this team, because it's pretty easy to look good when your team wins.

Vigneault's best work came from late October thru early December, when the team won just six of 17 games and scored a measly 26 goals.

The head coach did not panic, did not publicly rip anybody, or pull his own hair out. He continued to express a steadfast belief in his system and the players he had. And he even had a chuckle or two along the way, and that is a big reason why Canuck fans are smiling now.


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