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Demers fulfills his dream

Jacques Demers, who spent two years covering the NHL for a radio station in Quebec City, doesn't need help from a New England writer to describe his fate.

"I am like the kid who grew up in Boston and got to coach the Celtics. I am from Montreal. Coaching the Canadiens is a dream come true," said Demers, 48. "It's the great opportunity. It's the great challenge. When you come home after 20 years, there's a lot more pressure. A nightmare? I'll let you know in six months."

You don't win as coach of the Canadiens. You only break even when your players win the Stanley Cup. And with 23 titles in their team's storied history, Canadiens fans make anything less unacceptable. There is no tougher job in sports.

"Even if you have teams in the division with more talent, people always pick Montreal first," said Demers, who signed a three-year, $900,000 contract June 11. "They say, "They'll figure something out with their great tradition.' It's expected. If you don't, it's "What happened?' "

Demers is something Pat Burns, who left to coach Toronto, wasn't: popular with the powerful Montreal media. Demers is friendly. Demers is glib. Demers is a French Canadian. And as the only guy to win consecutive Jack Adams awards as NHL coach of the year with Detroit, it was only a matter of time before he got this job, right? Not true, Demers said.

"Jean Perron, who coached in Montreal, said I was not the kind of guy Montreal would want. I don't know why he said that, but I worked with him (on Quebec radio) and I thought, "That's it. My chances are nonexistent.' I didn't even know (Canadiens general manager) Serge Savard except to say hello."

Demers was immensely popular in St. Louis before bolting for Detroit. He was immensely popular in Detroit, too. He thought he might be another Bo Schembechler and stay in Michigan for a long, long time.

"But every NHL coach who steps behind the bench must accept that something's going to happen to him in a very short time," he said. "After my years in Detroit, the great things they said about me, it was like, "Wow, I'm here for 15 years.' Didn't happen. I got fired."

Demers left Hartford smiling after a 5-1 victory in his Montreal debut Tuesday. But Thursday, he got clocked 5-3 in Ottawa's first game. Demers' reply? "Give Ottawa credit. But this is humiliating."

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