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Rangers coach Alain Vigneault reflects on past before earning 500th victory

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, December 8, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GLENDALE, Ariz. - No matter the month, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault prefers to attend post-practice briefings with the media at home and elsewhere in shorts and sneakers or sandals.

But on a dry, sunny, desert day in a parking lot outside the Ice Den, where the Rangers practiced Friday, Vigneault appeared for the ritual in a crisp golf shirt and trousers, holding a sandwich in a carryout box.

Asked about his attire by the casually dressed writers, Vigneault smiled and said he messed up: "Yeah . . . I don't know what I was thinking."

Since being hired by the Rangers in June 2013, Vigneault, 53, hasn't messed up very often. He is 78-47-11 as the Blueshirts' coach and guided them to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

His career numbers aren't too shabby, either. The Rangers' 5-1 victory over the Coyotes on Saturday night gave Vigneault his 500th victory.

The former defenseman, who skated in 42 games with St. Louis from 1981-83, became the 21st NHL coach to reach 500 wins. He is tied with Montreal's Toe Blake for 20th place all-time.

Vigneault, who has developed a reputation for detailed game preparation, delegating duties to his assistants and giving long leashes to struggling veterans, recalled his first win as an NHL head coach -- with Montreal in the second game of the 1997-98 season -- as "a real tight game, typical Original Six game" in Boston. The 4-1 victory came after a 2-2 tie with Ottawa in his debut.

"If you're going to learn, it's a challenging environment [in Montreal]," the Quebec-born Vigneault said. "I was fortunate that they gave me my first opportunity."

That stint in a rabid hockey climate lasted three seasons plus 20 games into a fourth, when he was dismissed with a 5-13-2 mark and replaced by friend and former junior hockey coach Michel Therrien.

In reflecting on the past on Friday, Vigneault said: "I didn't have any gray hair, and I swear to God, I had hair down to here," he said, pointing to the receding gaps on either side of his forehead.

Vigneault then coached in junior hockey before getting a call to return to the NHL in 2006.

"I was six years in between the first and second gig, so you never know if you're going to get a second chance at it," said Vigneault, who is divorced with two daughters. "I'm one of the lucky ones who had a second opportunity."

In his first year with general manager Mike Gillis in Vancouver, Vigneault said, "we lost nine games in a row at one point and he stuck with me. You need support from players and you need support from management, and I've been very fortunate to have that."

He coached the Canucks for seven seasons, winning the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach in 2006-07 and Presidents Trophies in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

Now he's more confident and even-keeled, and things are going well on Broadway.

Unlike predecessor John Tortorella, Vigneault simmers, tight-lipped, in public when he is unhappy with the club's performance. Tortorella often used a blowtorch on players and media.

Vigneault, who is very vocal on the bench, calling line shifts and encouragement, directs his fire privately. But players say he will be stern and blunt when necessary to deliver his message.

"All I've tried to do, what all coaches do," he said Friday, "is get the best out of players."

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