A prince of a guy, this Demers? You bet. Maybe even a pushover? Wel-1-1-1. Ask rookie center Joe Murphy. First, Murphy missed curfew and then a team flight. Demers responded by sending the No. 1 pick in last year's draft to Adirondack. Or ask Warren Young, Doug Shedden, Lee Norwood, John Ogrodnick—veterans who have been demoted or traded this year. "He demands the maximum effort," says Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. "If you give it, you're fine. If you don't, you pay."
Petr Klima, whose defection from Czechoslovakia in August 1985 the Red Wings helped engineer, almost paid. He is a dazzling offensive talent, but his lackluster play at the other end of the ice was hurting Detroit. "Jacques and I had a talk," says Klima. Forward Joey Kocur amends that to, "Jacques had a talk. Petr had a listen."
Klima got the message. Since then he has been among the peskiest of Red Wings, who now rank ninth in the league in goals allowed with 234. "I score and backcheck," said Klima, who scored the third hat trick of his career, against Boston last week. "He's happy, I'm happy." Even Kocur, who had 377 penalty minutes in 1985-86—congratulations, Joey, you were the one Red Wing who led the NHL in something last season—has cleaned up his act and is going to the net more. He, too, has learned that one-dimensional players don't last on Demers's teams.
"These guys forget this is the greatest job in the world," says Demers, recalling that dawn-till-dusk boot camp of last fall. "I wanted them to know what the blue collars do. We show up at 9:30 for an 11:15 stretch, then leave at 2:00 in the afternoon. Everything's relaxed, everything's cool. There's no traffic, just beautiful highways. I want to show them the other side of the world."
Demers was born into that other side, in East Montreal in 1944. His father, Emile, was a butcher who moonlighted as a janitor. When Jacques was 16, his mother, Mignonne, died of leukemia. Less than two years later, while Jacques was taking his father for a Sunday drive in the family car, a convertible, Emile fell over sideways into Jacques' lap, dead of a heart attack.
Demers quit high school, drove a truck to support his brother and two sisters and went to an IBM training school. In his off hours he coached youth hockey teams. "I would tell people that I would eventually coach in the NHL," he says. "They would look at me sideways."
In 1972 Demers jumped from coach of Outremont, a Montreal junior league team, to the WHA Chicago Cougars as a scout. He was the Cougars' head coach within a year. From there it was on to head jobs in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and in 1978, Quebec. A year later Quebec was absorbed into the NHL, and at age 34, Demers had realized his dream of becoming an NHL head coach. A year later he was dismissed. But he stayed within the Quebec organization as coach and director of player personnel for the AHL Fredericton Express.
The bigs beckoned again in 1983, and Demers left the Express to coach St. Louis. "We had some success," he says of his days with the Blues. As he talks, Demers glances at his listener to see if the understatement has been recognized as such. The lowest-paid coach (an estimated $75,000 a year) in the NHL takes one of its less talented teams to within a goal of the 1986 Stanley Cup finals. We had some success. Right. And Lee Iacocca has a bit of business sense.
How unassuming is Demers? He had second thoughts about buying a Mercedes after the Red Wings made him a millionaire. "Jacques is only good at buying things for other people," says his wife, Debbie, whom he met in Frederic-ton. "He doesn't like to buy for himself."
The Blues, however, found the limits of Demers's selflessness. During the Campbell Conference championships last year, St. Louis owner Harry Ornest was boasting in a Calgary restaurant that he had the league's best coach but was paying him the least. "It got back to me," says Demers, who confronted Ornest. "He denied it, but the person who told me was not lying. I know it was said."