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Neutral Zone: André Tourigny-Mario Duhamel friendship built on shared values

Craig Morgan Avatar
September 19, 2021

Also inside: Tourigny reveals roles for assistant coaches, John Ferguson discusses leaving Bruins

Rouyn-Noranda coach André Tourigny was looking for a new assistant coach after Danny Dupont left to become the head coach of the Lac St-Louis Lions AAA Midget (QMAAA) team in 2005.

“I was going to meet someone else who I was supposed to hire, but someone who was working in our organization in Rouyn said, ‘I think you should meet this other guy,’” Tourigny said.

The other guy was Mario Duhamel, an assistant coach for the QMAAA’s Collège Charles-Lemoyne Riverains.

“I told Mario I would meet him on my way to meet the other guy,” Tourigny said. “It was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting. It turned into two hours, maybe more. As soon as I left that meeting I called that guy in our organization and said, ‘I found the guy. I want him.” 

Tourigny didn’t tell Duhamel he was hiring him at the time. Instead, he kept his other appointment out of respect, but Duhamel had the same impression after leaving St-Hubert restaurant in Sainte-Julie, near where he grew up. 

“When I came back home, I said to my wife: ‘We’re probably going to have to move,’” Duhamel said. “I didn’t have any confirmation but I felt it. We were talking about salary and chatting for two hours. That’s good news.”

When GM Bill Armstrong hired Tourigny, he said he wanted to make sure that his new coach would have a blend of experience and fresh ideas on the bench. Phil Housley was still under contract for another season. It was clear that he was going to be on the bench, and Armstrong had hand-picked Cory Stillman the previous season so the only real questions were who the goalie coach would be (Corey Schwab was retained) and who Touringy’s other assistant would be.

If you knew anything about Touringny, you already knew who that other assistant would be. Duhamel and Tourigny have worked together for 10 years with Rouyn, the Colorado Avalanche and the Ottawa 67’s.

“He‘s really driven, he’s passionate and he has a lot of character,” Tourigny said. “He will hold players accountable, but in a good way, and I like his vision of the game. It’s really detailed  with a lot of strategy, structure and fundamentals knowledge. 

“He’s a good teacher who builds relationships and brings a lot of energy every day. That’s important because I’m a high-tempo guy. I like to have a lot of energy around the guys and I like to work really hard but also have a lot of fun. Mario brings that and knows what I expect.”

At the core of the duo’s relationship is a shared value system, Duhamel said.

“It’s really our philosophy of life in general before we ever start to talk hockey,” Duhmale said. “Our backgrounds are similar and the values they taught us are similar. It’s more than hockey. It’s really the human side. From there, we built our relationship. We have a mutual respect but I’m not afraid to challenge him and he’s not afraid to challenge me.”

Duhamel had the opportunity to be a head coach in the QMJHL this season, but he knew he had to follow Tourigny to Arizona instead.

“I feel like I have big responsibilities with him,” Duhamel said. “I come every day to work my ass off in order to improve the team because I feel I am part of a solution. Sometimes, as an assistant, you don’t feel that as much. With Bear, we all have our say. Will he take our opinion all the time? No. He has the final call but we feel he cares about us and our opinions.”

Coyotes assistant coach Phil Housley (USA TODAY Sports)

Assistant coaches’ roles

Tourigny has settled on roles for all of his assistant coaches

Phil Housley will run the power play and coach the defense, including video sessions. Mario Duhamel will run the penalty kill, coach forwards (including video sessions) and will work on fundamentals with the players. Cory Stillman will be responsible for all of the pre-scouting but will also work with the forwards (including video sessions). Corey Schwab is, of course, the head goalie coach with an entirely new cast of NHL goaltenders.

“I wanted to have diversity in our skill sets and in our staff,” Tourigny said. “Phil Housley is a Hall of Famer, an offensive defenseman who has been a head coach in the NHL. You want people who are loyal and work hard, but to have someone who also has that knowledge and that experience of being a head coach is fantastic. He has coached with Barry Trotz, he has coached with Peter Laviolette. He has coached with really good coaches so it’s a blessing to have him on the staff.

“Cory Stillman is a heart and soul player who has experience head coaching in juniors and has been in player development in the NHL. He has been in every situation and was a high pick in the draft. Corey Schwab has been in every situation with winning teams, rebuilding teams, all kings of goalies, and we already talked about Mario. I think we have a great mix of skill sets so we can reach all of our players and have all of the tools that we need to be successful.”

New Coyotes assistant GM John Ferguson Jr (right). (Photo courtesy of Arizona Coyotes)

Ferguson Jr.’s next chapter

John Ferguson Jr. spent the past seven seasons in the Boston Bruins organization; the past five with the title of assistant general manager. There were more than a few raised eyebrows when he took what looked like a lateral move to the Coyotes, although it appears his title changed recently.

Here’s what Ferguson Jr. had to say when I asked him about the move.

“Well, it was obvious since Bill (Armstrong) came aboard that there was a clear plan in place and commitment from ownership to do what was necessary to build a group that will win, and win long term,” he said. “It’s very intriguing to me; the upside is huge. It is a great challenge. I understand that. We all understand that, but it is an equally great opportunity.”

Ferguson Jr. admitted that leaving the Bruins was difficult.

“I went to war together with these guys, with (GM) Don Sweeney and (president) Cam Neely and (CEO) Charlie Jacobs,” Ferguson Jr.  said. “I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to win and do what needs to be done at both levels. We accomplished a lot and I take great pride in that.”

Ferguson Jr. has a longstanding relationship with Coyotes special advisor Larry Pleau. The two worked together for six seasons with St. Louis, but Armstrong has known of Ferguson Jr. for 36 years.

“I first met John when I was actually 15 years old, taking power skating lessons from Cindy Bower (the daughter of Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower) outside of Toronto when John was on the ice,” Armstrong said. “From there on, our interactions were mostly from being on the (scouting) trail.

“What you hear about him from people around the league is he’s a hard-working guy that tries to make a difference. He is very, very well respected by the agents and the people. If you talk to the people that have worked under him, they’ve got a tremendous respect for how he manages.”

I asked Ferguson Jr. about the perception of his abilities being colored by his first GM job in Toronto. Like any executive, Ferguson Jr. believes that he has learned from his mistakes and successes, and that they have made him better at his job.

“And I’ve learned a great deal,” he said, smiling. “I’ve learned from some great managers and  people I have been around and worked with and for. I’m still in touch with Lou Lamoriello.  Larry Pleau was the first GM that I worked for and we won a Presidents’ Trophy in St. Louis, with maybe a $30 million payroll. And then going to a spot in Toronto where you’re the GM of probably the top revenue producing team in the world with also the greatest spotlight and the most amount of attention, that teaches you a lot.

“I remember the first training camp when we went overseas, there were 27 members of the media, traveling to Europe and we were all there for 10 days. You learn a lot about yourself and about the process of managing and communication. I think I can offer some of that insight to some of the hirings Bill has already made; guys like David Ludwig, Ryan Jankowski, Darryl Plandowski and André Tourigny.”

Loose pucks

  • El Paso, Texas, winner of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020, will host the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars for an NHL preseason game on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at El Paso County Events Center. Kraft Hockeyville was launched in Canada in 2006, and has impacted more than 80 communities with more than $4 million in rink upgrades across Canada and the U.S.
  • The Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli reported that the NHL’s salary cap ceiling is projected to rise $1 million to $82.5 million ahead of the 2022-23 season. That’s the first increase the league has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Seravalli also reported, citing deputy commissioner Bill Daly, that the league is projecting 98 percent of its players will be fully vaccinated before the start of the 2021-22 season. The expectation is that 10 to 15 total players will be unvaccinated, and subject to more stringent protocols.

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