It's been just about half a year since the Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Dominique Ducharme amid a downward spiral for the team after making it to the Stanley Cup Final in the previous season. Ducharme is finally having his say in his first interview since getting axed. He told The Athletic that he was never given the opportunity to sit down with new Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton and GM Kent Hughes to discuss the direction of the team after previous GM Marc Bergevin was fired.
"That's the side of it that hurts, or that's most disappointing to me, is not having the chance to sit down with them to tell them how I saw hockey," said Ducharme. "If the plan was to lose the most games we could and to play the young players, I would have liked to have known because I would have had a different approach with them. I was trying to squeeze as much as I could everywhere to try and get some results. I saw teams that had games cancelled because five of their players had COVID. We had 10, and another eight who were injured, and we still played..."
Ducharme is well aware of the talk that he cost Cole Caufield the Calder Trophy as the year's top rookie by not giving him ice time.
"Hearing that sucks," said Ducharme.
"Everyone was saying he would score 40 goals before the season even began. If he'd had a good start, he could have done it, but he got stuck in a spiral and the fact the team was struggling didn't help him individually."
"When I hear things like that, it's as if I didn't want Cole to score 40 goals. I would have loved it if Cole scored 40 goals!," Ducharme insisted.
As for improving under new head coach Martin St. Louis, Ducharme said he believes the message changed when the new bench boss was brought on board and it took the pressure off a lot of players.
"We were always seen as the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final and that couldn't win," said Ducharme. "The coaching change sent a message to the fans and the players that 'we're rebuilding, we're going to put our faith in the young players.' The result was no longer important, Martin could talk about moral victories. Me, if I talked about moral victories, I would get ripped."
At the end of the day, Ducharme hopes he's remembered more for the Stanley Cup Final run than the terrible season that got him fired.
"How many Canadiens coaches have reached the Stanley Cup Final? There hasn't been any since 1993 and there have been only four since 1980," he said. "So I'm proud of that. Nothing's perfect and you can't pick and choose."
"I still wouldn't change anything because this will make me a better coach. There were some really great moments. I had a lot of fun during our playoff run. But from September onward, I wasn't having fun anymore. That's not why we're in hockey but it's part of the game."