(Reuters) - Willie Desjardins was hired as the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, taking on his first National Hockey League head coaching job at the age of 57.
Desjardins spent the previous two seasons as coach of the Texas Stars, the Dallas Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate, who last week won the Calder Cup as champions.
He replaces John Tortorella, who was fired on May 1 after one season in charge as the Canucks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“It’s a big challenge and if I thought I had to do it by myself, it’d be overwhelming,” said Desjardins. “There’s lots of good people involved, we all have the same goal and when you know that, it’s not overwhelming, it’s exciting.”
Desjardins, who was an NHL associate coach for Dallas in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, was named AHL coach of the year in 2012-13 and in his two AHL seasons compiled a 91-40-21 record.
Prior to moving to professional hockey Desjardins spent 10 seasons coaching in the Western Hockey League, the final nine with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He also coached Canada to a silver medal at the 2010 world junior championship.
Despite his lack of NHL head coaching experience, Canucks executives were impressed by Desjardins.
“Wherever Willie’s coached, he’s had tremendous buy-in from his players, whether it be in junior or at the American League level,” Canucks president Trevor Linden said.
“Guys want to play for him and that’s one of those intangibles that it’s hard to measure on a whiteboard ... it’s about getting players to play hard.”
Desjardins said his approach was simple.
“I want us to play hard every night, I want us to play hard every shift,” said Desjardins, who began his coaching career as an assistant coach at the University of Calgary in 1985. “Every time we play, we play to win.”
Desjardins said he looked forward to the challenge.
“Did I think this day would come? You really don’t sometimes, but it’s great that it did,” he said.
“You always want to coach at the best level and the NHL is the best level, so you want to see where you’re at and what you can do.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue