"I honestly think their goal is to be the worst defensive team in the league."
That quote was taken from Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien on January 10, 2006 after their third straight loss - a 3-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers. Taking over behind the bench for Ed Olczyk just one month earlier, he wasted no time calling out his players. It was something that is rarely seen in pro sports, and many questioned the tactics at the time.
"We didn't like being called out," Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi told reporters on the eve of the Eastern Conference Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. "Nobody does. But sometimes, what are you going to do? That's a decision he made to talk to the media. That's fine. You can't ask guys to like it, but at the same time all you can do is play."
That scathing remark didn't do much for the Penguins moving forward, as the team went on to lose another seven games in a row. But while Therrien may not have made the immediate impact he would have liked, he did start change the mindset in the room.
"I think when he was outspoken in that scenario he wasn't wrong," captain Sidney Crosby said Thursday. "We weren't playing well. We weren't playing the right way and we didn't deserve to get rewarded the way we were playing with our attitude. Sometimes you can't always be nice about everything and sugarcoat everything. It was what it was and we knew we had to be better."
Therrien's fiery personality has earned him the nickname Bulldog. He earned the moniker back in his coaching days in junior and it's helped him build an impressive resume en route to Pittsburgh.
He coached Laval and Granby in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, posting a .720 winning percentage in four seasons as a head coach, reaching the QMJHL finals three times and leading the Predateurs to a Memorial Cup in 1995-1996.
He then spent six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, including a stint as the team's head coach. In 2001-02, Therrien led the Canadiens to their first postseason appearance in four years and a first-round upset of the Boston Bruins.
He then picked up coaching duties with the baby Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for two and a half seasons, leading the team to a 94-81-10 career mark. As a professional who has gone through numerous career changes in hockey, Therrien had no problem being an agent for change once he returned to the NHL.
"When I came to Pittsburgh there was a lot of things I wanted to change," he said. "And the way we were going, I don't believe we were going in the right direction and I didn't put on my white gloves. I didn't like the philosophy, and I wanted to make an impact right away."
Ryan Whitney, who broke in as a rookie blueliner that season, immediately knew that the team was in for some tough love. "He wanted to come in and change the whole culture here, and what had been going on and the little bit of the country club atmosphere," he said. "I have experienced some 'bulldog-ness' myself - so I understand that. It took a little while, but look at where we are today."
And this year's Penguins have been impressive to say the least, going 8-1 in the postseason with their first Conference Final berth since 2001. And what adds a little more spice to this series is that he and Flyers coach John Stevens - another American Hockey League coaching graduate - have had their share of heated exchanges during two previous playoff encounters in the minors.
"I hope it's going to stay on the ice," Therrien said Thursday. "But we are part of a rivalry - we never know what's going to happen. He's a good coach and I respect him as a coach. He's the type of guy that will defend his players and I will do the same if I have to."
Whitney, who played for Therrien in 2004-05 when the baby Penguins and Philadelphia Phantoms clashed in the AHL division finals, knows first hand about what could happen between the benches.
"I think they may have had a couple of words spoken between the benches with the glass separating them," he said. "But no brawls. They were going at it under the runway, but they're obviously intense coaches and they still are."
Both Therrien and Stevens are downplaying their rivalry, but if their fiery relationship on the ice is any indication, then this series could be very volitile.
With files from TSN's Brent Wallace.