Coaches come full circle

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

As Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness walked into the dressing room yesterday at the Robert Guertin Arena, they flashed smiles as the memories started to flow.

"I said to Alain when we walked into the little locker room, 'We've been here before.' I said, 'What the hell are we doing back here?'" Bowness said with a laugh.

Midway through Canucks practice, Vigneault and Bowness stood near centre ice and they had to laugh when they thought about their careers coming full circle as they prepare to face the Senators tonight.

Was still called Hull

In fact, the last time they stood on the ice in Gatineau together, the city was named Hull, Vigneault had just left the Olympiques to take an assistant's job under Bowness as the Senators were opening their inaugural training camp in 1992-93.

They had a great run along with former assistant E.J. McGuire until they were fired on Nov. 21, 1996, but it seems odd that it took them a decade to get back together as Vigneault takes over the role of coach to try to lead the Canucks to the playoffs.

"We went through the original growing pains, but it was a great learning experience and I wouldn't change a thing," said Vigneault, who makes his off-season home in Gatineau.

"I really enjoyed working with (Bowness). I'm really happy he decided to accept my offer to work with Vancouver because he turned me down when I offered him a job in Montreal (in 1999), but it has worked out all right."

Fired by Sexton

Their careers had taken different paths after they were summoned to GM Randy Sexton's office and given their walking papers.

Vigneault returned to the QMJHL for two separate stints, coached the Canadiens for parts of four seasons, made a stop with the AHL's Manitoba Moose and returned to the NHL with the Canucks this season.

Meanwhile, Bowness hooked up with the Islanders just long enough for former GM Mike Milbury to hire him to take over the coaching duties and then replace him the next year. Then, Bowness spent seven seasons with the Coyotes before Wayne Gretzky decided to make a change on his staff.

Through all of this, Bowness and Vigneault always kept in touch. They knew they would work together again.

"I knew he had no experience coaching in the NHL and I knew that going into it," Bowness said of their Senators days. "But you've got to remember that whole franchise was being built and we were all building for the future.

"We were all wondering where we going to be in five or six years.

"I knew he was going to be an outstanding coach at this level. He needed some experience and he needed some exposure at dealing with NHL players. It was a good opportunity to bring a young guy in the league, but it had to be a guy that we were compatible with and knew the game.

"I had strong feelings 10 minutes into our interview that I was going to have to hire this guy right away. I told my wife Judy that this guy was like me."

Wrong Hull, Bourque

It's the special bond Bowness and Vigneault had with the Senators that brought them back together.

There were difficult times, a lot of heart-breaking losses, but laughs along the way as they led a young, struggling franchise.

"I'll never forget the time we were sitting there and E.J. McGuire started saying, 'You know, we've got the wrong Hull. They have Brett Hull and we have Jody Hull. We've got the wrong Bourque. They have Ray Bourque and we have Phil Bourque.' There were three or four names and we couldn't help but just laugh," said Vigneault.

That's why it was nice to take a trip back.

"You don't forget where you came from," said Vigneault. "I played my minor hockey here, my junior hockey here and I had a lot of fun here coaching in junior. It's just home for me. This is just a way to come back to your roots."


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