THUNDER BAY – Two weeks ago, Trevor Letowski was watching the Montreal Canadiens play in the Stanley Cup final.
The 44-year-old former NHLer, who has coached the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires for the past three seasons, winning a Memorial Cup as an assistant coach in 2017, was not thinking about moving on.
Instead, he figured he had a few more weeks to enjoy camp life with his family in Northern Ontario before he’d head back to southern Ontario to get set for the upcoming hockey season.
A phone call from Dominique Ducharme changed his mind-set in a hurry.
The two had coached together on a pair of World Junior Hockey Championship teams, winning bronze in 2016 as assistants and gold two years later with Ducharme in charge.
Three years later Ducharme is now behind the Canadiens bench and when he needed to add an assistant coach to the team, Letowski was one of the first names that came to mind.
On Wednesday the Habs made it official, signing Letowski to join their coaching staff, the first NHL coaching gig for the former pro who spent nine seasons in the NHL, playing for Phoenix, Vancouver, Columbus and Carolina.
“You spend a lot of time at that tournament together,” said Letowski, who also played with fellow Montreal assistant Luke Richardson for a couple of seasons with the Blue Jackets.
“Not just the few weeks at Christmas. You really have time to build a relationship and we became good friends through that. Now I’m getting this opportunity and I’m just really, really excited.”
Montreal presents an intriguing opportunity for Letowski, who also won gold as a player at the 1997 World Junior Hockey Championship.
He said coaching in junior takes a specific set of skills, while coaching at the NHL level takes another set of skills.
But deep down, coaching is coaching.
“In junior, the focus is truly on development and getting them better and developing them as players, but also as people. They come in so young and they have so much to learn on and off the ice as 16-year-olds, whereas at the NHL level, they’re grown up, they’re the best players in the world,” Letowski said.
“I think the NHL has changed a little bit. I think it’s gotten younger over the years and there certainly is room for development with the younger players, specifically in Montreal.”
It was the likes of Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki that led the Canadiens playoff surge this past season, propelling the team into its first championship round in 28 years – the last time a Canadian team won a Stanley Cup.
“Especially in a place like Montreal, as everyone knows, it’s a high-pressure place to be. I think as a coach, especially as an assistant coach, it’ll be part of my job to keep those guys comfortable and get them through tough times,” he said. “Suzuki and Caufield had great seasons, but they will have adversity and they’ll go through slumps and things like that.
“I think that will be part of my role, to do one-on-one stuff and just get them through that, whether it’s a conversation or with some video or some extra work after practice.”
Having that playing experience at the NHL level will help his credibility with the next generation.
“There’s a fraternity among players. You know how it is. Unless you’ve played there, it’s kind of hard to understand the expectations that are put on you on a day-to-day-basis, so I can certainly relate to what they’re going through.”
Experience aside, Letowski said he never would have gotten where he is today without the love and support of his family, his wife and kids, his parents and in-laws and his brother and sister.
“Anyone in the hockey world, especially in the hockey world, knows that,” he said.