TANGUAY BRINGING SAME SUCCESS FROM THE ICE BEHIND THE BENCHOct 24, 2019
By Tom Witosky
As a player, Alex Tanguay focused on one thing: how he played in each game.
Now, the former Colorado Avalanche star forward – in his first season as an Iowa Wild assistant coach – is learning how to focus on everything and everyone else related to a team’s performance.
“It’s not easy,” Tanguay said with a wry smile. “I’m learning the system and everything I can about every player on the team. At the same time, I am really enjoying it.”
Tanguay’s decision to go into coaching after a highly successful 18-year National Hockey League career, during which he played 1,008 games and collected 863 points, came as a surprise to some.
“He was working at the NHL Network and that’s a good job,” Iowa Head Coach Tim Army said. “It’s great exposure and you don’t have the pressure coaching, right? You can make suggestions, but you’re not held accountable for it.”
But Army, who was an assistant coach during Tanguay’s final three years with the Avalanche, wasn’t all that surprised when he received a call from him this summer to talk about the vacancy left open by the departure of long-time assistant David Cunniff.
Army said Tanguay, like any veteran hockey player, missed the competition – a lot.
“Coaching is coaching, but it's competitive and it’s as close as you can get to the game as you can without playing,” Army said.
Tanguay retired from playing hockey after the 2015-16 season and moved with his wife, Helene, and three children to Florida. He became a full-time father and enjoyed being with his children and wife.
“Nine months out of every year, she was the one who had to do everything because I was unavailable to help most of the time,” Tanguay said. “But then I got the chance to be the full-time Dad and it was great. I was coaching my kids’ hockey teams and taking my daughter to tennis lessons. It was a lot of fun.”
But Tanguay said one thing was missing: hockey.
“The love of hockey didn’t disappear,” he said. “It's something that I cherished as a kid. It wasn't hard to get me to the rink. The game just doesn't disappear.”
Even getting a gig on the NHL Network wasn’t enough, even though he was in studio eight to nine times a month. He said that experience also will help him to coach developing players in particular.
“It was great because I think that with today's generation, there’s easy access to information everywhere,” he said. “Being able to communicate and communicate clearly and quickly is very important.”
Tanguay’s appreciation for what young players go through comes in major measure from his rookie season with the Avalanche. At age 19, Tanguay found himself as a rookie in Denver – a long way from his hometown of Saint-Justine, PQ.
That’s when then Avs goalie Patrick Roy stepped in to offer the rookie a place to live for the season.
“I got to Colorado and the team was looking for somewhere for me to stay,” Tanguay remembered. “Patrick and his family came forward and so I stayed for one year and a bit at his house.”
Tanguay, in accepting the invitation, got a season-long close-up look on what it meant to be a professional hockey player. Just driving to the rink in the morning with Roy meant a chance to observe and learn from one of the greatest goalies in NHL history.
“It was such an eye-opening experience because listening to arguably one of the top netminders to ever play the game, you see the level of preparation that’s needed. He gave me all kinds of tricks by taking me under his wing. Just going to the rink every day let me listen to his views and see his passion for the game,” Tanguay said.
With that kind of tutelage, Tanguay’s professional career took off with a bang. In his rookie season, he would rank fifth on the team in scoring with 51 points behind the likes of Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Chris Drury. During the next season, he increased his point total to 77 points and played a vital role in helping to bring the Stanley Cup to Denver in 2001.
He scored the first two goals in the Avs 3-1 Game 7 victory over defending champion New Jersey.
“I felt good ahead of the game in the morning and the afternoon,” Tanguay remembered of a major highlight of his career. “You know there is so much excitement and certainly the chills when you think about how you dream of scoring in overtime in Game 7. But I guess having two goals and an assist in the final game will do.”
How to help other players achieve that kind of excellence is now Tanguay’s top priority. He says that will be dependent on communication with players to work together as a team and not worry about individual performances. It’s also where his television experience should be helpful.
“Being able to communicate clearly and quickly is very important and being able to communicate with everyone is very important,” he said. “In every locker room, there are things that certain players will get and certain players won't right away. You'll have to explain it a different way to them.”
Wild players said that Tanguay’s experience and ability to communicate commands their attention.
“He's one of those guys that everything he says, you really listen,” veteran forward Sam Anas said. “He had such an incredible career and he's got such a great vision for the game you're going to listen whenever he talks.”
Brandon Duhaime, who has broken into the Wild’s starting lineup as a rookie, said Tanguay can talk about small details that most coaches don’t even notice. At a recent practice, Duhaime said, Tanguay pointed out a small move a power-play forward can make to force a goalie to move into a vulnerable position.
“I've had never really thought about it before and I don't think any coaches ever, told me stuff like that,” Duhaime said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Army said his new assistant coach is more than ready to step into the coaching role that includes working with forwards and running the team’s penalty kill, which ranks in the top-10 in the league.
“He is very, very knowledgeable and I think he's a very patient teacher,” Army said. “He's already shown he does well with those guys.”
Louie Belpedio, one of the Wild’s top penalty killers, said that Tanguay’s experience is what has helped to keep the team’s penalty kill operating at a high level so early in the season.
“He's played in the NHL for a long, long time and had a career that most of us can only hope we get half of, honestly,” Belpedio said. “So he knows what he's doing. Everyone respects him. Everyone listens when he talks.”
Tanguay’s goal is to have each player understand success is dependent on how each person on the ice plays.
“I want the players to understand that there are five players on the ice, and you need to use each other gifts to be successful. You need to have the cohesion,” he said.