Don't be misled, however. Tessier isn't about to transform Chicago into the Wimpy City. "Sometimes you have to fight," he says. "I understand that, but I can't stand talking misconducts that get you extra minutes for something you say to the ref, or what I call nonworking penalties. Those come when you have to trip or hook a guy because you've been standing around doing nothing."
Tessier accepts Secord's role as policeman—"Al's our big guy, and he has to let them know who's boss," he says—but insists the winger pick his spots. That's just what Secord didn't do against Washington. He and Caps' Defenseman Randy Holt were penalized for roughing in the first period and fighting in the second. "What did Holt have?" says Tessier. "A couple of goals all last season? [He scored two.] So our 44-goal scorer goes off with their two-goal scorer. That's not a fair trade. It's tough for Al, but sometimes a big guy with his reputation just has to go over to the guy who's bothering him and say, 'Take off before I drive you.' "
Tessier is a plain-looking pudgy man whose moon-face is framed by a double chin and a receding hairline. It's not an imposing visage, but it abounds with blue-collar straightforwardness. Tessier looks like the guy who comes to fix the furnace. In a way he is. "Did you see that sign by the [locker-room] door?" he asks a visitor. "I think it's a good message." The sign reads: A MAN SHOWS WHAT HE IS BY WHAT HE DOES WITH WHAT HE HAS.
The message is corny—though not as corny as the aphorism over the whirlpool: YOU CAN'T MAKE THE CLUB IN THE TUB, or the one in the equipment room: WE SUPPLY EVERYTHING BUT GUTS—but it encapsulates Tessier's struggling and heretofore modest life as well as his coaching philosophy. A winger, he came up to the NHL with Montreal for four games during the 1954-55 season and then did short stretches with Boston in 1955-56 and 1960-61. "I wasn't a fast skater so I couldn't do the things I did in the juniors or minors," he says. "That's why I stress skating with all my teams."
Always a half beat behind the NHL orchestra, Tessier retired in 1964. At the time, he was playing with the now-defunct Portland Buckaroos of the Western Hockey League and "trying to raise a family of four kids on $6,000 a year." Tessier took a job in his native Cornwall, Ontario as a salesman for Molson Breweries. He was out of hockey until 1971, when he agreed to coach a weak Cornwall Junior A team. Tessier guided the club to the national championship—the Memorial Cup—in his first season. After 10 successful years behind the bench in junior hockey, he was tapped by Pulford to coach Chicago's American Hockey League affiliate, the New Brunswick Hawks, in 1981. Tessier promptly led them to the league title.
"He's been a winner everywhere he's coached," says Pulford. The Hawks' management also was impressed by the discipline he imposed in Cornwall and New Brunswick. Murray, who played for Tessier at Cornwall before joining the Hawks, recalls a game in which Cornwall went into the final period leading 9-2 and ended up winning 9-5. "He came into the locker room and said, 'You guys won't ever stop skating like that again,' and then fined us our $25-a-week expense money." Once he got his message across, Tessier gave back the money.
Rookie Steve Larmer, who played for Tessier in New Brunswick and is now right wing on the Savard-Secord line, says Tessier hasn't altered his style for the bigs: "Orval stressed defense and discipline then and it's the same here now." Which isn't to say he's always a dreary taskmaster. After the taking of Chicago's official team picture had consumed much of practice the morning following the Washington game, a group of players asked Tessier if they could play an intra-squad game instead of going through the usual regimen.
"Good idea," he said with a laugh. "Let's play a hockey game because you sure didn't play one last night." Tessier then said to Assistant Coach Cliff Koroll, "I'll coach the second and fourth lines, you take the first and third lines and $5 says my team will win." Tessier won the bet as his side prevailed 3-2.
As the sign says, a man shows what he is by what he does with what he has.