File under "didn't see this coming." Yesterday the Montreal Canadiens, a team in first place in the Atlantic division, fired their head coach Michel Therrien. And here's the kicker. The man they hired to replace him is Claude Julien, who was fired just one week ago by Montreal's long time ancient rival, the Boston Bruins.
This decision by Montreal GM Marc Bergevin is the second of a bombshell variety in recent years, only slightly less shocking than his move to swap the wildly popular superstar defenseman P.K. Subban for Nashville all-star blue-liner Shea Weber, a move that has seemed to work out pretty well for both teams. But this decision is curious. Yes, the Canadiens have been slumping recently, winners of just two of their last seven games, and their most recent loss was a 4-0 shut-out against the Bruins. But you don't often see a coach fired while his team sits atop the standings. Ironically enough, one coach who did suffer just that fate was Claude Julien, who got canned by the New Jersey Devils back in 2007 while that team was in first place at the time.
Now Julien takes over behind the bench in Montreal after a ten year stint with the Bruins that saw him become that franchise's all-time wininngest coach, and a tenure that produced a Stanley Cup in 2011. And really, with the Bruins winning their first three games since Julien's firing under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, how wonderful would it be to see the Bruins make the playoffs and meet the Canadiens in the post season yet again, facing off against their former coach. No teams in any sport have had more playoff games against each other but this really makes a compelling case for another this year.
The greatest rivalry in NHL history would have an extra layer of the personal added to it, and the atmosphere in both buildings would be electric, so let's hope it happens. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether this move will shock the Habs out of their recent doldrums. The problem with Montreal in recent years has been getting off to a strong start, as they did this year and last, and then fading either in the playoffs or at the end of the season. But with the world's best goalie, Carey Price, healthy this year, Montreal does have the anchor it needs to get back to playoff glory. The team has more Stanley Cups by far than any other NHL club, but the last one was hoisted in 1993, and for hockey mad Montreal that might as well be the Jurassic era.
Perhaps that's why the status quo wasn't quite good enough for Bergevin and he saw an opportunity with Julien's firing to ramp up the rivalry with Boston another notch while giving his team what he felt was a needed wake up call in the final weeks of the regular season. The puck pundits in Montreal seem to like the move, by the way, and you only need to glance at the headlines in the Montreal Gazette and other local papers to see their thoughts...you don't need to turn to the sports pages. In Montreal, this is front page news.
In mens' college basketball the Middlebury Panthers wrapped up their regular season in style, beating Plattsburgh State on the road 91-70 behind 30 points from their star forward Matt St. Amour, who also etched his name in the record books. With that game-high 30 St. Amour becomes the first player in school history with two 500-point seasons. The Panthers finish the season with a mark of 21-3 and will begin the division three NESCAC playoffs with a tilt against Bates at home on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Johnson & Wales routed Norwich 81-52.
In womens' college hoops, the Norwich Cadets got a career game from Paige McNally, who double-doubled with 19 points and 13 rebounds, both personal bests, but in the final seconds two made free throws by St. Joseph's of Maine sent the Cadets to a one-point loss, 68-67 in Northfield. Heather Leblanc also had a strong game, continuing her stellar senior campaign, pouring in 22 points and 11 rebounds for a double double of her own, but St. Joseph's Julia Champagne went to the line with her team trailing by one and hit both free throws to give the Monks the final lead of the game.
The Middlebury Panthers got by Plattsburgh 59-54, using a 22-7 run in the third quarter and a defensive stand in the fourth to hold off a late Cardinal rally for the win. The Panthers finish the regular season at 17-7 and will host Colby in the NESCAC quarterfinals Saturday.