Sad to hear that Claude Ruel passed away at the age of 76. He was just at the Guy Lapointe jersey retirement and Jean Béliveau’s funeral. He was very low key, mostly avoiding the camera and interviews, but it was good to see him, if fleetingly.
For you young ones, Claude Ruel was the kindly uncle, the assistant coach who took the edge off the mean head coach’s burrs, especially Scotty Bowman. Youngsters would have their confidence shaken, but ‘Piton’, as he was affectionately known, would just work with them, stay with them after practice for an extra twenty minutes, drill them, work on this or that situation.
“Hey, let’s spend a few minutes working on this…” was how former Canadiens say he’d approach them. It helped their skill development, it made the kids ‘pay their dues’ in the eyes of the vets and be accepted within the team. While they were headed to the pub for lunch, the ex-Voyageurs were putting in the extra time.
This baton, this method of operating was passed on to defenceman coach Jacques Laperrière, who played a big, big part in this unending succession of young defenceman who’d rise through the ranks and be ready to contribute in short order.
It’s interesting that for the last couple decades or so the Collective Bargaining Agreement has had language that limits the amount of time a player can practice every day, so this ‘extra work’ may no longer be permitted. Which makes sense, you wouldn’t want to be playing for John Tortorella or Doug Maclean’s Blue Jackets or Dallas Eakins and have endless practices, but it’s unfortunate that players on good teams with good coaches who can develop skills can’t benefit from this method.
A very humble man who won a Stanley Cup as a coach and was beloved by his players, Claude Ruel was a great Canadien. He was also an able scout who spotted talent, and brought many key players into the fold with his hard work.
We can warmly remember him as the originator of the saying "Y'en aura pas d'faciles", meaning, when talking about the schedule and upcoming games, that "There ain't gonna be any easy ones", a quote he uttered often as the harried coach of a marquee team always battling inferior teams that keyed up against his.
A man who loved the Canadiens, loved hockey, and was still scouting midget and Junior games as a hobby, long into retirment, he will be missed.