JUST over one year since returning to the National Hockey League, this time as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, Thunder Bay’s Trevor Letowski has had some time during the off-season to reflect on a topsy-turvy campaign with the Habs.
Rejoining the NHL, after a 616-game stint as a player, with four-different clubs (Phoenix Coyotes; Vancouver Canucks; Columbus Blue Jackets & Carolina Hurricanes), that concluded back in 2008, the 45-year-old Lakehead product offered his thoughts on the experience in his initial stint behind the bench in the league.
“The pace is so fast. The players are so talented,” Letowski said.
Having the chance to work with one of the most storied franchises in hockey, particularly for home contests, was also not lost on him.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” he added. “Especially having the opportunity to coach 41 games at Bell Centre. Anyone that has been there to see a game can probably relate. It’s a special place for hockey.”
Making his mark in junior, first as a player, Letowski starred for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting where he still holds the franchise record of 34 consecutive games with at least one point, established 25 years ago.
Averaging nearly two points-per-game with the Sting in 1996-97, he went on to help Canada mine gold at the 1997 World Junior Hockey Championship in Switzerland.
Letowski went on to join an exclusive list as someone who has won a WJHC title as both a player and coach, when he was on the staff that won it all for Canada at the 2018 event in Buffalo, N.Y.
It was there where he worked alongside Dominic Ducharme, who began last season as Montreal’s head coach.
Recruiting Letowski from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, where he won a Memorial Cup as the associate coach in 2017, and was the club’s bench boss following that success, the decision to make the jump to an NHL staff was a difficult one.
“It wasn’t easy leaving Windsor,” he stated, reflecting on a squad he built that went on to advance all the way to Game 7 of the OHL final this past season. “Really good organization and a good league. It was fun working with young players that were very motivated to develop. But in the end, it was the Montreal Canadiens. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join such a storied franchise. I felt ready for a new challenge.”
The move to the Canadiens proved to be a rocky one early on as the club struggled mightily under Ducharme.
A harsh start that saw the Habs begin the year with a disappointing record of 8-30-7, saw Ducharme relieved of his duties and replaced with hall of fame forward Martin St-Louis, who had no NHL coaching experience on his resume.
St-Louis’ arrival as interim head coach aided in turning Montreal’s fortunes around as they went on to wrap-up their season with a sturdy finish.
When queried as to what the new-style leader brought to the team and helped the Habs turn the corner with a vastly-improved style of play, Letowski offered: It was well documented, but he wanted the players to play with swagger. His messaging early on really resonated with our guys.”
Adding to that the Canadiens’ assistant coach stated: “He brought a lot of new concepts and ideas on how to put our players into better spots offensively. The team seemed re-energized.”
Asked further if there was anything that surprised Letowski, or he was educated on, about St-Louis’ coaching style, Letowski went on to say: “I learned a lot from Marty. He is truly a student of the game. A real passionate guy, who loves the game. He has a unique vision of how he wants the game to be played, but at the same time gives the players a lot of room to be creative.”
NEXT WEEK: Part II on Trevor Letowski’s return to the NHL.
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