Sitting in his office at Disney Ice in Anaheim, Pierre Pagé considers the advantages of his new job as coach of the Mighty Ducks: He's working for a longtime ally (general manager Jack Ferreira); he has a team that includes two of the five most dynamic players in the game (wingers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne); and after years of living in places where snow piled high for months on end, he's about to spend a warm winter preparing to chase the Stanley Cup. "I figure that after all my time in the NHL," says Pagé, "this is where it will finally pay off."
Anaheim fans, still bewildered by the dismissal of former coach Ron Wilson, certainly hope so. Wilson led the fourth-year Ducks to the fourth-best record (36-33-13) in the Western Conference last season. He guided them to the first playoff-series win in franchise history, and his overmatched team played the eventual Stanley Cup champion Red Wings tough in the second round. All that came after Wilson led the U.S. to an upset win over Canada in the 1996 World Cup. But on May 20 Wilson was fired because he and the front office had philosophical differences. Says Ferreira, "The decision was not about wins and losses."
Neither, apparently, was his hiring of the 49-year-old Pagé. Intelligent and driven, Pagé was brilliant rebuilding downtrodden franchises in Minnesota and Quebec in the late 1980s and early '90s. Both teams, however, thrived only after Pagé had moved on. Pagé, now coaching his fourth team in eight years, has a 227-258-69 record that includes only one winning season. He has never won a playoff series. "I have a history of getting things started and then not being around at the finish," he says.
To take another step toward the league's elite, the Ducks need big performances from players besides Kariya (he scored 44 goals in 69 games last season, but he is an unsigned restricted free agent and had not reported to camp as of Monday), Selanne (51 goals) and Guy Hebert (2.67 goals-against average). Pagé may try newly acquired veteran wingers Tomas Sandstrom and Scott Young with rookie center Espen Knutsen on the second line, and he plans to make up for average talent with an aggressive checking style he likens to "Rick Pitino-style basketball."
Now all Pagé has to do is win like Rick Pitino.