MINSK, Belarus — Alain Vigneault is back in the conference final with the New York Rangers, and at least one of his former Vancouver players couldn’t be happier.
"For Alain, I’m happy for him that he got back there so quickly," Canucks defenceman and Team Canada captain Kevin Bieksa said. "He’s a good coach and he’s obviously been there before and he took us there. We had a lot of really good years together. Absolutely we’re cheering for him and hope they do well."
Bieksa is one of a handful of Vigneault’s former players casually following his playoff run from afar at the world hockey championship, three years after the Canucks came one victory short of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. After beating the Montreal Canadiens twice at Bell Centre, Vigneault and the Rangers are two victories away from making the final.
Joining Bieksa on Team Canada are Canucks teammates Jason Garrison and Alex Burrows. Garrison only played one season under Vigneault, and so he doesn’t have as deep a connection to him as those on the 2011 Cup final team.
Like Bieksa, Garrison isn’t necessarily cheering for Vigneault and the Rangers.
"It’s tough to root for success on another team, that’s for sure," Garrison said. "It’s notable, kind of the season he’s having and the playoffs that he’s having. … But that’s about it. Other than that, if anything, you’re jealous."
It’s natural for former Canucks to feel a little jealous, considering they missed the playoffs under former Rangers coach John Tortorella in a season that cost him and general manager Mike Gillis their jobs. If they were still playing, Bieksa, Garrison, Burrows, Denmark’s Jannik Hansen and Niclas Jensen, Switzerland’s Yannick Weber and Sweden’s Joacim Eriksson wouldn’t be in Minsk.
Among them, only Bieksa, Burrows, Garrison and Hansen played for Vigneault. Even though things went sour in 2013, Garrison doesn’t have anything bad to say about how the 53-year-old Quebec City native handled a veteran Vancouver team.
"Guys respected him and he respected the players," Garrison said. "He was a good person, and I had no complaints at all."
Bieksa played for Vigneault for seven seasons during which the Canucks went to the playoffs all but one year. The 32-year-old doesn’t share Garrison’s tinge of competitive jealousy.
"It’s a different team, a different conference," Bieksa said. "I don’t really have jealousy. It would be different if it were, like, a good friend or a former teammate."
The Rangers have only one of those in Raphael Diaz, who played just six games in Vancouver.