Alain Vigneault, the coach who has guided the Rangers to within two games of the Stanley Cup Final, isn't a New Yorker, and never will be.
But the Quebec City native has qualities that New Yorkers can admire: a dutiful work ethic, strong self-beliefs and an ability to climb off the mat.
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Memories from the winding road that began as a coach at age 25 with Trois-Rivieres in the Quebec junior leagues, continued to a Stanley Cup Final loss with Vancouver three years ago (his Canucks lost to Boston in seven games) and has now reached Manhattan, with another chance to reach the Final, resonate with Vigneault.
But Vigneault, now 53, divorced with two daughters, has not spoken about that journey during his first season here -- or his personal philosophy behind the X's and O's -- until Wednesday, a day before the Rangers host the Canadiens in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I was six years between NHL jobs," Vigneault said, noting his firing by Montreal in 2000 after 31/2 seasons and a 21/2-year stretch without coaching before joining the Prince Edward Island Rocket, a Major Junior team, in 2003. "Instead of being in front of 21,000 people," he said, "I was coaching in front of 1,000 people." It was not the ideal choice.
"I had bills to pay, had a family to make sure was provided for and it was the only place I could work," he said. "I always thought working was honorable; I did a couple more years in junior, was fortunate to get a job in the American League [with Vancouver's farm team, the Manitoba Moose], then fortunate to get a second chance in the NHL."
The time in Montreal, where the storied Canadiens dominate coverage like the Yankees here, taught him plenty about the business. He succeeded Mario Tremblay and when he was axed, Michel Therrien, who will be on the adjacent bench Thursday night, replaced him.
"As a coach there, you have to make sure the team is ready, you're ready," Vigneault said. "I think it brings out the best in people. A lot of the attention, on a 24/7 basis, is on your team."
With nine major-league teams in this area, the Rangers don't get nearly that type of attention until the spring, even if they make the postseason.
But Vigneault carries himself in the same manner, respectful to players, professional and polite in his dealings with the media, and intent on his sense of how to compete. "I'm doing it my way," he said Monday.
"I've had a lot of advice given to me over the years," Vigneault said. "Everybody says to be yourself and to stick with what you believe in. If at one point you're shown the door, at least you did it your way. I was seven years [in Vancouver] and in the other Canadian markets at that time, 20 coaches went through. It's a tough environment. I did it my way, and I've come to New York, another great hockey market, and I'm doing it my way."
Through it all he's earned respect; former players continue to root for him in the playoffs. "I'm happy for him that he got back there so quickly," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Toronto Star Monday. "He's a good coach . . . We had a lot of really good years together. Absolutely we're cheering for him, and hope they do well."