GLENDALE, Ariz. - Bill Armstrong sat in a small-town Canadian restaurant watching a major junior coach and his players.
Then a scout, Armstrong was mesmerized by the way André Tourigny, a man nicknamed Bear, was able to connect with his team.
"He was known as this big tough coach and I watched him with his players for two hours," Armstrong said. "I was fascinated by his ability to interact with his young kids and at the same time get the most of them on the ice."
The two-hour window stuck with Armstrong through the years. When it came time to hire his first coach as general manager, Armstrong knew where to turn.
The Coyotes officially announced the hiring of Tourigny on July 1, hoping the veteran NHL assistant and major junior coach can turn around a franchise that’s missed the postseason seven of the past eight seasons.
"I want players to see it as a fresh start," Tourigny said. "I want players to know it’s not about what they did in the past. I want them to arrive here with the philosophy of improving themselves for a new coach and with a new culture."
Tourigny has made a name for himself as a coach known for holding players, young and old, accountable.
He could be just what the Coyotes need after floundering for most of the past decade.
Arizona hit a high by reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals, followed by a series of middling finishes and small crowds.
The Coyotes made some headway under previous coach Rick Tocchet, earning their first postseason appearance in eight years in last season’s pandemic "bubble" environment. Arizona stumbled to the finish this season, losing 12 of 15 to drop out of playoff contention, which led to the firing of Tocchet after four seasons.
"With time, they understand I care about them as a person," Tourigny said. "The player has a job and there’s no gray area. It will be black and white and we’ll be relentless and we’ll hold them accountable. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like the person."
The 47-year-old built an extensive coaching background before arriving in the desert.
Tourigny started coaching at the major junior level in 1998 and had stints as an assistant in the NHL with Colorado and Ottawa. He spent the past three years as head coach and vice president of hockey operations for the Ottawa 67s, earning Ontario Hockey League coach of the year honors in consecutive seasons.
Tourigny also has extensive coaching experience with Team Canada, including a silver medal as head coach at the 2021 World Juniors and gold as an assistant to Gerard Gallant at last month’s world championships.
"André is driven to succeed and although we are disappointed to lose a head coach with his extensive hockey pedigree, he has made a significant impact on our national team program at every level," Hockey Canada vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said in a statement.
Tourigny got the lowdown on the Coyotes’ job a bit serendipitously.
At the world championships in Latvia, he sidled up to former Coyotes captain Shane Doan, Arizona’s chief hockey development officer and Team Canada’s assistant general manager.
"I tricked Doan a little bit because Doan didn’t know Bill had called me, so I had a lot of questions," Tourigny said. "Doan had so many good things to say about the ownership group and his passion for the Valley and the ownership group and people here in Arizona was unbelievable and how much he loved the Yotes."
Now Tourigny gets to put his stamp on a franchise that could undergo more big changes in the offseason.
Armstrong stood pat at last season’s trading deadline, believing Arizona had the players to get back into the playoffs.
Once they didn’t, the Coyotes had some tough decisions to make this summer, including free agents, unrestricted free agents and potential trades.
"He brings accountability and likeability," Armstrong said. "I’m very excited about bringing André on board to lead the Coyotes in the new era, as our head coach."
A Bear could be just the right person to get the Coyotes headed in the right direction.
AP Hockey Writers Stephen Whyno and John Wawrow contributed to this story.
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