Bartlett: Cunneyworth takes over for Martin on Habs' bench

John Bartlett
12/17/2011 3:27:57 PM
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MONTREAL - After what many considered to be an up and down start to the Canadiens' season, the performance of the team on the ice has cost Jacques Martin his job. Sitting just two points out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference, the task now turns to Randy Cunneyworth and more importantly, the players to get the job done.
When Pierre Gauthier looked over his team's performance to start the season, he saw there has been a rash of injuries. But the more disturbing issue for Gauthier has been the team's recent inability to hold a lead in the third period and game preparation. Rather than waiting any longer to wait and see how things would turn out, he decided now was the right time to make a very difficult decision.
There is a long history between Gauthier and Martin, which makes it a tough day for both of them, however, in the world of professional sports, results are the measuring stick, and the team hasn't lived up to expectations so far this year.
In steps Cunneyworth, someone who is familiar with being a behind the bench as a head coach in the Canadiens organization already and a person who should hold the respect of veteran players himself. Cunneyworth was a hard-nosed player who appeared in 866 NHL games, had 414 points and 1280 PIM. He also knows what it takes to be a leader as he has worn the "C" on his sweater during his playing days in Ottawa.
His coaching career dates back to the 2000-01 season when he stepped behind the bench of the Rochester Americans in the AHL, where he spent seven seasons leading the Amerks to a 306-267-67 record. He was named the AHL Coach of the Year in 2004-05.
After two seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers as an assistant coach, he came to Hamilton where he guided the Bulldogs to a 44-27-9 season, and a trip to the Conference Finals in the playoffs. On that team was Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Yannick Weber and Ryan White.
The task for Cunneyworth will be to put the head coaching hat back on and try to rally a team that seems to have lots it's way slightly over the past few weeks. He will need to inspire the veterans on this team to respond and get back on track. The reality is this team is not that far off track, but after a while, sometimes the message needs a new voice. That might be the case here and if so, now is the time to make that change before the team heads down a path they can't turn back on.
The challenge now falls on the players to perform, respond and execute for a full 60 minutes. The message has been sent. A bonus for Cunneyworth could be the schedule. Tonight's debut on home ice, the team can ride on emotion, then hit the road for the next 6 straight games to escape the city, and bear down on the task at hand.
For Randy Cunneyworth, today is a mix of emotions. There is the disappointment that a friend and colleague in Martin was dismissed and that as a whole, the team has not met expectations. Yet, on the other hand there is immense excitement. The team has now turned a new page and it's time to move forward and it starts with a new message.
Randy Cunneyworth is the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
You can follow me on Twitter @BartsByte
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