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No Pierre Pressure : Team Mounted an Intense Coach-Hunt

August 10, 1997|MIKE DOWNEY

On or around Pierre Page's 50th birthday, on the last day of April next year, the Mighty Ducks should be right in the middle of a do-or-die NHL Stanley Cup playoff series.

By then, the following already will have happened to Pierre and his Ducks L'Orange County:

* Two games in Japan (Oct. 3-4).

* A six-game trip to St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida (Dec. 27-Jan. 4). (Try packing the proper winter clothing for that one.)

* A 16-day layoff, for the Winter Olympics (Feb. 8-24). (During which two of Page's players--Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne--probably will have to go back to Japan.)

* A seven-game trip to New Jersey, Philadelphia, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, Detroit and Colorado (March 18-28). (Well, as long as they're all in the same general neighborhood.)

* And, back-to-back games on the regular-season's final weekend (April 19-20). (By which time, the Mighty Ducks might be too pooped to quack.)

Welcome to West Coast hockey, Pierre.

This native of Quebec with the lyrical name--it's pronounced "Pierre Pa-ZHAY," which to me sounds like an enchanting new line of perfume--officially became the Mighty Duck coach Saturday at the Pond.

He went directly down the street Saturday night to toss out the first ball at an Angel-Baltimore baseball game.

I don't know if Angel Manager Terry Collins ever went to the Pond to drop the first puck.

But I do know that both times Disney needed a new man to run its teams, the company went for the most intense competitors they could find. Collins and Page are a couple of fireballs.

Jack Ferreira, the Duck general manager, went so far as to introduce Pierre as "a very intense individual."

I appreciate this use of intense as a compliment. The word used to be an insult.

Ferreira says he has known Page for 18 years, that this was the coach he wanted all along.

The firing of charter coach Ron Wilson? Well, that wasn't an easy thing, except according to Ferreira, "If Pierre had been available when we began this franchise, he would have been our coach."

Intensity, that's the word that keeps popping up.

"When you paint a profile of what you want in a coach," Tony Tavares, the team president, observed, "you look for intelligence, you look for ability, and you look for intensity. In our particular case, we were looking for someone who would work well with kids."

Calgary, the coach's last employer, kept holding up the deal, until the other day.

As Tavares put it, "Both sides were kind of playing chess."

You know how they can be up in Canada . . . they always get their man, and they hate letting him go.

Page finally can get to work. Camp opens right after Labor Day. The team plays an actual exhibition game Sept. 14 in Edmonton. It seems like only a few weeks ago that Detroit eliminated Anaheim and went on to take the Stanley Cup.

This is Page's goal now . . . an intense goal.

He is a coach who pulled his Flames off the ice last February, canceling a practice after 10 minutes because they couldn't properly do a drill.

Ferreira said within earshot of his coach, "Our players will always know where they stand with him. Sometimes, they won't want to know, but they'll know."

"That's true," Page agreed.

I am glad the Ducks finally got him. (Or anyone.) Page is a natural-born coach. He was doing it in his early 20s. OK, so he hasn't spent all summer here. Page will have plenty of time to get to know his players on that plane to Japan.

Ask him how true it is that he has a hot temper, Pierre smiles and says, "Wellllll . . ."

He has mellowed some, but makes one thing clear: "I don't want to lose my intensity. You shouldn't let your emotions get the best of you, but I also like to keep my edge."

Ferreira says the only time he ever grabbed a headset to call a coach during a game, Page had just joined the Minnesota North Stars after five years in Calgary as an assistant.

Five times in six games, Minnesota had been whistled for too many men on the ice. Ferreira barked into the headset: "Pierre, it's the same in the Norris Division as in the Pacific Division. Five skaters."

Other than that, Ferreira had the coach he wanted most. He does again.

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