Carbonneau's goal remains coaching
keeps busy with reality TV show, broadcasting
By Pat Hickey, courtesy of The Montreal Gazette, October 14, 2009
Guy Carbonneau was waiting for a phone call last summer, hoping someone would offer him employment for the coming season.
The call came in August, but it wasn't the one he expected.
"I was hoping that I would hear from one of the teams looking for a coach," said Carbonneau, who became available when the Canadiens fired him as head coach on March 9.
Carbonneau did get a call from Sherali Najak, the executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada. He wanted to know if Carbonneau was interested in joining CBC as an analyst for Canadiens telecasts.
"The call came out of nowhere," Carbonneau said. "I was hoping to get an interview for a coaching job, but I didn't get any interest. When this TV thing came up, I went to Toronto and I talked to Sherali and I talked to (Dallas Stars head coach) Marc Crawford, who did some TV last season, and it seemed like a good deal. It's a way to stay in touch with the game, to let people know I'm still around." Najak noted that Hockey Night in Canada has increased its presence in Montreal and he wanted someone associated with the team.
"I was always impressed with Guy when I saw him being interviewed," Najak said. "He's intelligent and well-spoken, and he has a dry sense of humour. I think people will want to hear what he has to say." Carbonneau said he did some TV work a few years ago when Edmonton met Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup final, but admitted he might be a tad nervous when he does his first game this Saturday night, when the Canadiens are home to the Ottawa Senators.
"I've always felt comfortable in front of a camera," said Carbonneau, who noted there's a difference between getting grilled by the media and being part of a broadcast crew.
In the former, it's a reactive exercise responding to questions. In his new role, he'll have to learn to interact with a play-by-play commentator - his regular partner will be veteran Bob Cole - and with Greg Millen, who will serve on occasion as the third analyst in the booth.
"I have to learn when to jump in," said Carbonneau, who had a test run during a Toronto-Boston preseason game. "In a way, it's a lot like playing or coaching; you have to be prepared." Carbonneau still has coaching ambitions - there's an out clause in his CBC contract if an NHL team comes knocking - and recognizes one of the pitfalls that comes with that. Analysts who still feel they have a future in coaching or management are sometimes reluctant to be critical of a potential employer. Mike Milbury and Jacques Demers became more effective when they accepted the fact broadcasting offered more of a future than a front-office job. Crawford was careful not to offend any prospective employer, while John Tortorella was hired by the New York Rangers despite the fact he was an outspoken analyst during a brief run with TSN.
Carbonneau, who acknowledged that his goal is to get another head-coaching job in the NHL, said he recognizes the possible conflict.
"But I've been critical of myself in the past and I've been critical of my team," Carbonneau said. "If a team plays a bad game, I'm going to tell the viewers that. The way I see my role is to explain the game, to educate the fans."
Said Najak: "We're aware that it's a delicate situation. Guy is still being paid by the Canadiens and he's said that he won't criticize the organization. But we know that he's going to offer honest commentary. Hockey isn't a mean sport, and we want him to comment fairly. If he has to be critical of a way the team is playing, I'm confident he'll do that."
While Carbonneau was disappointed not to get a coaching offer from the NHL, he said there was an upside to the snub. He underwent surgery on Aug. 11 to replace his hips. There were times last season when he was in obvious pain while on the ice during practices.
"This has given me a chance to be healthy again," said Carbonneau, who was able to get back on the golf course late last month.
And while the NHL hasn't called, Carbonneau will be back behind the bench in the new year as part of Montréal-Québec, a hockey-based reality show on TVA. Carbonneau will coach a group of players from the Montreal area, while Michel Bergeron will coach a group from Quebec.
"The interest in the show has been incredible," Carbonneau said. "Thousands of people have expressed interest in being on the show."
Auditions are continuing and the thousands will be whittled down to two teams.
"Each team will have three women, one player over 40 and one player over 50," Carbonneau explained. "And because it's TV, I guess there will be a little drama off the ice."
This is the first time in several years that Carbonneau hasn't been around a training camp in September, but he said: "I'm at peace with what's happened. It's like when I retired as a player. I knew it was time and I was at peace with my decision."
Carbonneau didn't get a chance to decide on his coaching career. He was fired the day after the Canadiens won a crucial game in Dallas. While he's reluctant to talk about his departure from the Canadiens, he does admit there were times "when I was angry at the world, but that passed."
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