Willie Desjardins has built champions in major junior hockey and the American Hockey League.
Now he’ll get the chance on the sport’s biggest stage.
Desjardins was hired as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
It’s his first NHL head coaching job. And he’ll join new president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and first-time NHL general manager Jim Benning as the Canucks rebuild following a disappointing 2013-14 season.
"I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time," said the 57-year-old Desjardins.
Desjardins becomes the 18th head coach in club history and succeeds John Tortorella, who was fired after just one year behind the Canucks bench.
Tortorella and former Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis were fired after Vancouver’s disappointing season that saw the Canucks miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Desjardins says he thinks the Canucks can become a playoff contender again.
"We have so many great leaders on this team, and to get to be part of that group, I’m looking forward to it," Desjardins said. "They’ve won in the past, they’ll win again."
His coaching career has taken him from Japan to the Canadian national program, and from the Western Hockey League to the minor leagues, since he was first hired as an assistant with the University of Calgary in 1985.
"To be part of such a great organization and NHL city is just a real honor."
Desjardins was also thought to be a candidate to take over in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have a roster that includes superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The former coach of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers said a chance to return to Canada was too good to pass up.
"Sidney Crosby’s a heck of a hockey player obviously, but for me, when I looked at what was here — I looked at the two guys who are leading this (Benning and Linden), I looked at the quality of the players … Canadian market, Vancouver fans — it was the right choice to come here."
Desjardins, a native of Saskatchewan, just led the AHL’s Texas Stars to a Calder Cup championship.
He spent two years with Texas, winning the AHL’s coach of the year award in 2012-13 when he led the Stars to their first South Division regular season title and the top seed in the Western Conference for the 2013 playoffs.
Prior to his tenure in the AHL, Desjardins spent two seasons as an associate coach with the Dallas Stars from 2010 to 2012.
He also served as head coach (2002-2010) and general manager (2005-2010) of the Tigers, where he led the team to two Memorial Cup tournaments, including an appearance in the 2007 final.
Desjardins was the WHL coach of the year for the 2005-06 season. His resume also includes stints on Canada’s staff at two world junior tournaments and one world championship, as well as time coaching with the University of Calgary and in Japan.
"I’ve watched Willie’s teams play over the last 12 years," Benning said. "His teams play fast and work extremely hard. They play an up-tempo hard-skating kind of game. His teams play with that relentless attitude that we want our players to play with."