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Bond remains between Therrien, Pens players

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Former Penguins coach Michel Therrien has the Canadiens near the top of the Eastern Conference. (AP)

MONTREAL — When Michel Therrien was named Montreal Canadiens coach in June for a second time, he immediately heard from an old player.

And it meant the world to him.

Therrien happily reflected on a text message he received from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby before the Penguins and Canadiens met at the Bell Centre on Saturday.

“My goal was for him to become the best player in the NHL,” Therrien said. “He's a special guy, a true professional.”

Crosby praised his former coach.

As Penguins coach from December 2005 to February 2009, Therrien led Crosby to his first playoff berth and first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Crosby, at 19, was named captain while Therrien was coach.

“He gave me a lot of responsibilities and opportunities at a young age,” Crosby said. “We all grew up together, and we learned a lot from him. He had a lot of influence on my career.”

Crosby joked about the reunion tour that took place on this road trip.

Only 48 hours earlier, the Penguins saw center Jordan Staal in a different uniform for the first time.

“It's different,” Crosby said. “It's been a long time. It's good to see (Therrien) back. It looks like he's doing pretty well.”

The Canadiens entered Saturday's play with the most points in the Eastern Conference.

The coach is still demanding and a stickler for detail, but there is evidence he has mellowed during his third stint behind an NHL bench.

When he greeted the media Saturday morning, Therrien jokingly removed legendary Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange's tape recorder from the podium.

“Maybe he's calmed down a little,” said Canadiens winger Colby Armstrong, who has played for Therrien in Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh and Montreal. “His fuse is a little longer.”

Therrien's demanding nature may have been the biggest reason for his firing, as it could be argued that the eventual Stanley Cup champions had tuned him out by 2009.

Still, the Penguins agree that his tutelage played a significant role in their development.

“He's a very good coach,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He taught us how to come to the rink and work hard. I learned a lot from him.”

So, too, did the man who replaced him.

Dan Bylsma was the coach in Wilkes-Barre when Therrien was fired.

“I think what we saw working underneath Michel Therrien in Pittsburgh was a hard coach, a demanding coach, a straightforward coach,” Bylsma said. “That's what you see again here in the first half of the season in Montreal. I learned from Michel. He's done a very good job, both in Pittsburgh and in Montreal, of changing the culture and the atmosphere.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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