MONTREAL — As the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers rekindle their rivalry with the start of their playoff series on Wednesday, a former general manager in Quebec's top junior league has divided loyalties.
For Charlie Henry, Habs coach Claude Julien and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault — two alumni of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — are more like sons.
Both men coached the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques when Henry was the team's general manager.
"They are two of the best ambassadors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League," said Henry.
"I'm not just saying that because they coached the Olympiques. They are examples to follow because they never gave up."
Henry said both men are similar in their tenacity.
He explained how Vigneault returned to the juniors after coaching in the NHL, notably in Montreal between 1997 and 2001.
Having to return to a lower league can be difficult for a former NHL coach, Henry said.
"One night, when he was in the juniors, I told him what he was doing wasn't easy," Henry said. "He told me he was confident good things would happen."
Henry said Julien's tenacity reveals itself in the way he manages players.
"Claude is the kind of guy who can convince you to be a good player and improve your game just by the way he speaks to you," he said.
Eventually, after all the positive encouragement, a player starts to believe it, Henry explained.
"It's his strength," Henry said about Julien. "He's a little like a father encouraging his son, and who keeps on doing it."
Vigneault, while also encouraging, was more direct, Henry said.
"With (Vigneault), when he put his hand on your shoulder and spoke right into your ear with his low but piercing voice — you listened."
And despite his nostalgia and good feelings toward the two men, Henry appreciates how one of them will be on vacation after the first round of the playoffs.
So maybe that's why he is refusing to make predictions.
"I hope the series goes to seven games," is all he would say.
Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press