BY RYAN DIXON
Perry Pearn holds no bitterness toward the Montreal Canadiens organization, but as a proud hockey man, the disappointment in his voice is obvious while discussing Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier’s decision to dismiss him on Wednesday.
Pearn had just begun his third season as an assistant on the Habs’ bench when Gauthier axed him only a couple hours before Montreal’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers that night.
"To be let go this early is tough to take," says Pearn when reached by Sportsnet magazine on Friday morning. "I understand, but there’s always going to be… I’m a proud person, I think I’m good at what I do, so I can’t help but be disappointed that what’s happened has happened."
Pearn was in charge of Montreal’s struggling special teams, just one of the deficiencies of a banged-up club that had a 1-5-2 record the day he was fired.
"Do I think it’s my fault the Montreal Canadiens had a bad start?" Pearn asks. "I’ll take my share of the responsibility. Our power play wasn’t as good as it should be; our penalty-killing wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. But to say I’m the only reason we had a bad start, no, I don’t accept that.
"And I’m sure that’s not the point of me being let go, is that it was all my fault. It was a way of sending a wake-up call to everybody that things had to change."
The message, for the time being anyway, seems to have worked, as the Canadiens have won twice since Gauthier’s startling decision, which initially drew heat for its abruptness.
"I guess if you’re sitting today from the general manager’s standpoint, he would have an argument it worked," Pearn says of his dismissal. "They won the last two games."
Pearn says he learned of his firing in a one-on-one meeting with Gauthier.
"At 3 o’clock on Wednesday we were all focused on trying to win a hockey game," he explains. "By 5 o’clock, all the circumstances had changed."
Gauthier’s public statements in terms of his rationale for the move have been vague, leading most to conclude that Pearn was the sacrificial lamb for a club that was off to its worst start since 1941-42. Pearn, who might stay with the organization in another capacity, declines to give specific insight into to the conversation he had with Gauthier.
"Those are private things within the organization," Pearn says. "The organization has been really good with me. It’s a disappointing circumstance for everybody, but I’ll take my responsibility for the way the team started. If you ask me, ‘Do I think we could have gotten things straightened out with me being part of it?’ Yes, I do, but I understand that’s not my decision."
Pearn, who is good friends with Habs coach Jacques Martin and previously worked with him in Ottawa, points out signs that the Canadiens may not have been as bad as their record indicated on the day he was fired. Montreal was stonewalled by two separate 40-save performances, first by Buffalo’s Ryan Miller on Oct. 18, then again on Monday by Florida’s Jacob Markstrom.
Pearn also has a history of working on winning staffs: he and Martin made the playoffs each of the eight years they were in Ottawa, the New York Rangers clubs he was a part of from 2005-06 to 2008-09 all qualified for the postseason, as has Montreal in the past two seasons. It’s difficult for Pearn not to contemplate how things might have been different had he been granted a bit more time.
"That always becomes the question," Pearn says. "Would the Montreal Canadiens have beaten Boston (Thursday) night and Philadelphia on Wednesday if I’d have been there? You don’t know. We were sort of poised to make that move… because we hadn’t played terrible."
With the Canadiens playing the past two nights, Pearn says he hasn’t had a chance to chat with Martin, but he assumes his old buddy had his back on this one.
"I’m sure he was (in my corner)," Pearn says. "We’ll get our chance to talk about it."
Pearn plans to sit down with Gauthier to discuss what kind of role he might be able to perform for the Canadiens for the duration of the season. He says he holds no ill will toward the franchise and is proud of his work in helping the club reach the Eastern Conference final in 2010 and nearly knock out the eventual Stanley Cup champion Bruins last spring in a tight seven-game first-round loss.
"I had two good years here," he says, "successful years given the competitive nature of our team in the playoffs.
"I’m not hanging my head in shame by any stretch of the imagination. I do think I’ve had a positive impact in lots of areas in terms of helping the team become a little bit better than it was the day we arrived."