The Pittsburgh Penguins today announced the hiring of Michel Therrien as the 19th head coach in team history.
Therrien leaves his post as head coach of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, where he had led the team to a league-best record of 21-1-2-1 through 25 games this season. He replaces Eddie Olczyk at the helm in Pittsburgh, and becomes the 25th AHL alumnus (and 17th former AHL head coach) among the 30 head coaches in the National Hockey League.
Mike Yeo, who had been an assistant coach in Wilkes-Barre since retiring on Jan. 24, 2000, will join Therrien in Pittsburgh as his assistant.
Also relieved of their duties in Pittsburgh were assistant coaches Joe Mullen and Randy Hillier, strength and conditioning coach John Welday and goaltending coach Shane Clifford.
Strength and conditioning coach Stephane Dube and goaltending consultant Gilles Lefebvre, who worked with Therrien in Wilkes-Barre, have also been promoted to Pittsburgh.
Penguins general manager Craig Patrick said that the Penguins will conduct a search for another assistant coach to join Therrien and Yeo. In the meantime, Eddie Johnston, the Penguins’ assistant GM who has extensive NHL coaching and management experience, will join them in an interim role on the coaching staff.
“We have been very disappointed in our performance this season, and we felt it was time to make a change in direction,” Patrick said. “Michel has done a tremendous job in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, not only this year but in all three years there, and he has played a key role in developing some of our young players.”
Therrien, 42, compiled a record of 94-83-18 in his two-plus seasons in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 2003-04, he guided the club to a berth in the Calder Cup Finals, defeating the top three teams in the Eastern Conference along the way.
The Penguins’ 39 wins in 2004-05 stand as a club record, and their point totals under Therrien — 86 in 2003-04 and 92 in 2004-05 — are the two highest marks in franchise history.
Therrien and the Penguins were already rewriting the AHL record books in 2005-06. The team went its first 23 games without losing in regulation (20-0-2-1), the longest such streak from the start of a season in the league’s 70-year history.
The Pens won their first 13 road games of the year, tying the AHL mark for longest road winning streak in a single season. Combined with the wins in their final two road games of 2004-05, Wilkes-Barre’s 15-game road winning streak stands as an overall AHL record.
"Just like any player in the American Hockey League, the aim of a coach at this level is to make it to the NHL," said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton CEO Jeff Barrett. "The hard work and enthusiasm that these guys have shown for the job has been evident since day one, and their promotions are well-deserved."
Prior to joining the Penguins, Therrien spent six seasons in the Montreal Canadiens organization, including a stint as the team’s head coach, during which he posted a 77-91-22 record in parts of three seasons. In 2001-02, Therrien led the Canadiens to their first postseason appearance in four years.
Therrien also spent three-plus seasons as a head coach with the Canadiens’ AHL affiliates in Fredericton and Quebec from 1997-2000 before being promoted to Montreal. He owns a career AHL head coaching record of 209-195-40 (.516).
Therrien played three seasons in the AHL, and won a Calder Cup championship with Sherbrooke in 1985.
Yeo, 32, signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the Penguins’ inaugural season of 1999-2000. He recorded four points in 19 games before knee injuries forced him into retirement.
Prior to joining the Penguins, Yeo played five seasons with the Houston Aeros, then of the International Hockey League. As the team captain during the 1998-99 season, he recorded 18 points and 65 penalty minutes in 57 games and helped lead the Aeros to the Turner Cup championship.