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No Pierre Pressure : Page, Ferreira in Business Again

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He’s been called a workaholic, bright, innovative, demanding, a straight shooter and too emotional for his own good. Pierre Page denies none of it. He is what he is.

In many ways the Mighty Ducks’ new coach sounds a great deal like their old one. There is one substantial difference, however.

Page, unlike Ron Wilson, is one of General Manager Jack Ferreira’s closest friends.

“If Pierre would have been available when we started the franchise [in 1993], he would have been the coach,” Ferreira said Saturday during a news conference to announce Page’s hiring.

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They first worked together in 1980 with the Calgary Flames--Page as an assistant coach and Ferreira as a scout. They were reunited in 1988 with the Minnesota North Stars when Ferreira, as general manager, gave Page his first head coaching job in the NHL.

They were set to jump together to the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1990, but Page received a more attractive offer to become general manager of the Quebec Nordiques.

Now they are together again.

“We think alike,” said Ferreira, who signed Page to a three-year contract worth about $500,000 per season. “I like the way he works with young players, the way he develops young players. He’s also a good person, a good character guy.”

The worst thing anyone says about Page (pronounced: Pa-ZHAY) is that his temper sometimes gets the best of him.

“In Minnesota he was,” Ferreira said, pausing to find the correct word, “over-exuberant.”

Yet, Page and Ferreira managed to pump life into a struggling franchise that badly need a jolt. The North Stars won only 19 games the season before they arrived, improved to 27 victories in 1988-89 and 36 in 1989-90.

Page was responsible for a similar turnaround in Quebec. The Nordiques, who became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, went from 16 victories in Page’s first season to 20, then 47 before slipping to 34 wins in 1993-94.

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In hindsight, Page says he failed in Quebec because he took on too much when he added coaching duties to his role of general manager in 1991.

There also was a celebrated blowup on the bench with standout forward Mats Sundin during the 1993 playoffs. With the Nordiques ahead by two games to none against their hated provincial rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, Page lost his players’ confidence by screaming at Sundin. Soon enough, Montreal rallied to win the next four games to take the series.

“My mistake was I stopped showing I cared about the players,” Page said in 1995. “I was too busy being a coach and general manager. I think I got real pushy at the end. I didn’t like myself.”

Forced by upper management to choose between the jobs, Page instead resigned in 1994. After a season in which his only contact with the league was a five-day stint as a consultant at the Ducks’ training camp, the Flames hired him as coach in 1995.

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Page’s task was the same in Calgary as in Minnesota and Quebec: Build a winner. But he would have to make do with a cast of youngsters.

He earned almost universal praise for his ability to lead the outmanned Flames to a 34-37-11 record and a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Page then took some puzzling postgame shots at Chicago Blackhawk President Bill Wirtz. Page believed Wirtz’s influence around the NHL led to key calls going against the Flames, who eventually were swept in four games. Most figured Page was off base, including one member of the Flames who asked: “Who’s Bill Wirtz?”

There were defenders, however, including pint-sized captain Theoren Fleury.

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“I wouldn’t fault him,” Fleury wrote in a guest column for the Calgary Herald. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing and he took a lot of the pressure off us. He’s a great guy who brought a lot to this team and this organization. People say he was overly emotional in Quebec, but he’s changed in a lot of ways.”

Fleury then changed his tune last season after feuding publicly with Page over ice time and work habits. At season’s end, Fleury resigned his captaincy.

Page did not lose all of the players’ respect, however. He once halted practice after 10 minutes because the Flames could not properly perform a drill.

“He is a perfectionist who doesn’t want us to fall into bad habits,” veteran forward Dave Gagner said.

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Down but not quite out of the playoff hunt in the waning weeks of last season, Page believed the best way to guide the Flames through a brutal seven-game cross-continent trip was to pretend it was a playoff series.

The players bought into it, winning the “series” four games to three. It was quite a feat considering the Flames haven’t won a real playoff series since raising the Stanley Cup in triumph in 1989.

The ploy couldn’t help the Flames reach the top eight in the Western Conference, and they finished 10th and out of the playoff picture.

Nevertheless, Page and others figured he had earned a two-year contract extension.

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“Two years ago, did you think they had the talent to make the playoffs? I didn’t,” Ferreira said. “They almost did it again last season.”

General Manager Al Coates offered Page a one-year extension and wouldn’t budge on a second season. Page admits he might have been too stubborn, but rather than accept Coates’ deal, he quit June 18.

After almost two months of feuding over compensation, the Ducks and Flames finally agreed to settle their differences last Tuesday. Finally, Ferreira could hire Page in Anaheim.

This time the task will be different. Page’s mandate isn’t to turn a losing franchise into a winner. He must turn a playoff qualifier into a Stanley Cup contender.

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Page said Saturday he hasn’t changed his coaching style much since he first began in the college ranks at the tender age of 24 in Halifax, Canada. He is older, wiser, more mature, to be sure.

“I’ve mellowed too much,” he said, smiling. “The key is to be yourself. You have to control your emotions. I was too intense at times. [But] you want to come to work every day and look forward to it. I’m into the process of winning, not just winning. People who worry just about winning don’t always win.

“I’m kind of pushy between games [at practices]. That’s where I get into trouble.”

Mighty Duck Notes

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General Manager Jack Ferreira believes the Colorado Avalanche will match the New York Rangers’ $21-million offer to restricted free agent Joe Sakic. And that means the Rangers could make a similar offer to Duck free agent Paul Kariya. The Rangers have been seeking a standout forward to replace Mark Messier, who signed as a free agent last month with the Vancouver Canucks.

“It’s put the NHL into a different level as far as salary escalation,” Ferreira said of the Rangers’ offer to Sakic.

Ferreira has the right to match any outside offer for Kariya and has said all along he will do so no matter the price. The Ducks made Kariya, the league’s third-leading scorer with 44 goals and 99 points last season, an initial offer of $25 million for five years.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Pierre Page Profile

* BACKGROUND: Born April 30, 1948, in St. Hermas, Quebec . . . Started in NHL with Calgary Flames in 1980, first as assistant and then general manager/coach of Flames’ affiliates in Denver (1982-84) and Moncton (1984-85). . . . Calgary assistant (1986-88) . . . Head coach of Minnesota North Stars (1988-1990). . . . General manager of Quebec Nordiques in 1990; added coaching duties next three seasons. . . . Calgary head coach from 1995-1997 before taking Mighty Duck job.

HEAD COACHING RECORD

*--*

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Year Position Team Record 88-89 Coach Minn. 27-37-16 89-90 Coach Minn. 36-40-4 91-92 GM/C Quebec 20-48-12 92-93 GM/C Quebec 47-27-10 93-94 GM/C Quebec 34-42-8 95-96 Coach Calgary 34-37-11 96-97 Coach Calgary 21-41-9

*--*

Totals: 219-272-70

Playoff Record: 6-16

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