Strategy Game Changers: Jacques Lemaire

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Getting to Know Jacques Lemaire

Jacques Lemaire – born in LaSalle, Quebec, Canada, in 1945 – was meant to know his way around a hockey puck. His natural skills led him to the NHL in the late ’60s, and his team, the Montreal Canadiens, definitely benefitted.

He spent his entire playing career with the Canadiens and basically ruled the ice from the start. His rookie season (1967-1968) saw him netting 22 goals and 20 assists during the regular season, but he proved himself a clutch performer during the playoffs, where he racked up an additional 13 points. He helped his team win the Stanley Cup that year, and over the next 10 seasons, he and the Canadiens would capture it seven more times.

After his playing career was over, he went to Europe to try his hand at coaching in Switzerland. Once he returned to the U.S., he took on a front office position and eventually made his way into coaching spots. He returned, in 1984, to the Canadiens as head coach for most of two seasons. He then made his way to New Jersey, where he assumed the same position for the Devils. This was where Lemaire perfected the strategy he’s known for – the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap.

Stifling Opponents With the 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap

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Although the idea of a neutral zone trap was established long before Lemaire took over the reins in New Jersey, he is credited with perfecting the strategy. In fact, the Devils – under his leadership – are regarded as one of the stingiest defenses of all time. The neutral zone trap is a defensive strategy that works to prevent the offense from entering the zone by forcing players to the sideboards. It can also force them to dump the puck into the zone, causing a turnover.

The Neutral Zone Trap Now

While the 1995 New Jersey Devils are thought to have been the best example of the neutral zone trap – launching them to a four-game sweep of the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals – the strategy did not live and die with the team. Virtually all modern-day NHL teams use some form of the neutral zone trap. While it may not be exactly the same as the strategy perfected by Lemaire and the team he coached, his legacy still shines brightly in the years since that victory.

Crowning Achievements

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Lemaire will always be remembered for his contributions to ice hockey, from when he was an invaluable player, who was part of eight championship teams, to his time as a head coach, where he revolutionized a style of defense that is still used today. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, he captured the Jack Adams Award twice – once in 1994 and again in 2003. This is an annual award given to the head coach who has contributed the most to his team’s success.

From scoring goals to perfecting a defensive technique, gaining him yet another ring as a head coach, Jacques Lemaire will go down as one of the most influential figures in NHL history.

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