Canadiens Nordiques – The rivalry: Michel Bergeron on the verge of leading the CH

Imagine the scenario! An emblematic figure in the rivalry between the Canadiens and the Nordiques, Michel Bergeron came very close to finding himself behind the bench of the Montreal club after the resignation of head coach Pat Burns in May 1992.

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This is particularly what one of the episodes of the documentary series reminds us Canadiens Nordiques – The Rivalrywhich will be available on the Vrai platform starting November 29.

“It was me or Jacques Demers, it was obvious,” recalls the man who spent two stints as Nordiques coach, first between 1980 and 1987, then during the 1989-1990 season.

General manager Serge Savard, who also went to school with Bergeron in the Rosemont district, hesitated for a long time after the Tiger’s candidacy was pushed by Jacques Lemaire.

« I was sure to have the job, I was ready to turn Quebec upside down, » testified Bergeron, who already imagined Lemaire becoming his assistant behind the bench.

The popular hockey man gave an interview during the filming of the documentary series Canadiens Nordiques – The Rivalry.


The popular hockey man gave an interview during the filming of the documentary series Canadiens Nordiques – The Rivalry.

Savard had made the right choice

The state of health of « Bergie », struggling with a heart problem, had helped to push back Savard and the Canadian. And Demers got the job to better lead the CH to the Stanley Cup in 1993.

« It was a hard blow, » admits Bergeron in the documentary series.

« They say that time fixes things, » the former coach clarified, with serenity, in an interview given on the sidelines of the next launch. For two or three years, it had been difficult, but in 1993, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. So the choice of Serge Savard was the right one. »

“Jacques Demers has always been a friend, even if, at that time, we were in competition, adds Bergeron. I was an analyst during the 1993 conquest and I wanted the Canadian to win. I was happy for the organization and for Jacques. »

It was therefore with Demers behind the bench for the Canadiens that the last great chapter in the history of the rivalry between Montreal and Quebec was written when, in 1993, the two clubs met for the last time during the playoffs.

The documentary series obviously returns to this memorable confrontation. The conquest of the Stanley Cup, by Montreal, had indeed begun with the elimination of the Nordiques, however favorites, in the first round.

Michel Bergeron with former Canadian coach Jacques Demers, in 2015.

Archival photo

Michel Bergeron with former Canadian coach Jacques Demers, in 2015.

A bad turn signed “Carbo”

If the exploits of Canadian goaltender Patrick Roy remain in the imagination, some tougher situations will also have marked the duel with Quebec.

A classic remains the presence on the ice of Mario Roberge who, during the warm-up period of the third game, had prevented the Nordiques goalkeeper Ron Hextall from completing his routine by going to touch the face-off circle, at the height of the Red line.

Guy Carbonneau, then captain of the CH, was at the heart of the scheme and reveals the details in the sixth episode.

Psychology 101

The result of the series 4 of 7, won in six games by the Canadian, will obviously have contributed to making this anecdote a legend. The Nordiques had won the first two games in Quebec when Roberge, from the third game, had listened to Carbo to play in the head of the opposing goalkeeper.

« There is psychology in hockey, it’s extraordinary […] When a guy eats a bowl of oatmeal [avant un match] and that he scores three goals, he will eat a bowl of oatmeal before each game”, sums up Roberge, proud to have played his part in disturbing Hextall.

« Ron Hextall was no longer the same from that third game, » said Canadian defender Patrice Brisebois.

“Le Tigre” was known for his fiery character.

Archival photo

“Le Tigre” was known for his fiery character.

“The rivalry was there”

Roy’s brilliance and Demers’ qualities as a motivator will have contributed to the course of the Habs, who then defeated the Buffalo Sabers, the New York Islanders and, in the grand final, the Los Angeles Kings.

Nearly 30 years later, however, the elimination of the Nordiques remains a highlight of this 1993 conquest among hockey fans, both in Quebec and Montreal.

“The Nordiques were favorites to beat us, the rivalry was there, said Stéphan Lebeau. When we eliminated the Nordiques, it was our first little Stanley Cup of 1993.

If we had to identify a single speaker who is sorely lacking in the documentary series Canadiens Nordiques – The Rivalrythis is Patrick Roy.

It would have been interesting to hear it, especially in the sixth episode concerning the course of the CH in 1993.


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