Profiles in Excellence: Bob Berry

Bob Berry

Rank #45 – 16 points

Coaching Experience:

Los Angeles Kings, 1978-1981

Montreal Canadiens, 1981-1984

Pittsburgh Penguins, 1984-1987

St. Louis Blues, 1992-1994

Regular Season W-L-T: 384-355-121

Playoff W-L: 11-22

Adams Division Title: 1981-1982

Playoff Appearances: 1979-1983, 1993-1994

Trivia Question: Who was Mario Lemieux’s first NHL head coach?

Answer: Bob Berry.

Bob Berry is an obscure figure in hockey; destined to follow in the wake of more notable coaches and yet when one examines his coaching career he was successful enough to be ranked among the best of the game.

His strengths as a coach varied from team to team. When he coached the Kings and the Canadiens, his teams showed great strength offensively (and also had a great power-play offense as well). On the other hand his Penguin teams did not dominate offensively (despite the arrival of Mario Lemieux); and it wasn’t until his last season there that the Penguins cracked the top ten in offense.

Defensively, his Montreal teams were the strongest while the other teams he coached were either average or mediocre. His teams’ constant weakest trait was in penalty-killing. Only twice in his coaching career did his teams crack the top-five in penalty-killing.

Bob Berry was a left winger with solid scoring ability and decent two-way skills. He played collegiate hockey in America and Canada; toiled in the Canadiens minor-league chain before finding a niche with the Los Angeles Kings in 1970. He spent six seasons with the Kings (where he subsequently played for Bob Pulford) before going back to the minors in 1976. Two years later he gave up playing to become the head coach of the Kings.

His record there was uneven. Even though he led the Kings to three straight playoff appearances it wasn’t until his third year there that he got a winning season out of the team. His 1980-1981 Kings were very good. Berry got NHL All-Star effort from Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, Mario Lessard, and Dave Taylor but the Kings still lost in the first round of the playoffs.

When Claude Ruel of the Montreal Canadiens stepped down as coach, Berry (a Montreal native) was tapped to succeed him. Berry was part of the interstice between the departure of Scotty Bowman in 1979 and the Habs Stanley Cup win in 1986. It was during these years that the players who formed the Canadiens dynasty of 1976-1979 grew old and gradually retired while the team itself was slowly grinding to a halt.

Berry’s first season with the Canadiens was his best ever; winning the Adams Division title and earning 109 team points. The Habs had the best defense in the NHL but still lost in the first round of the playoffs. By 1984, the team had declined and Berry had lost support in the locker room. Berry was fired as head coach (Jacques Lemaire replaced him).

He wasn’t unemployed for long. Penguins GM Eddie Johnston hired him as head coach. Berry’s stay with Pittsburgh was the roughest stretch of his coaching career. He endured three consecutive losing seasons. The only memorable aspect of his stint was that he introduced Penguin fans and hockey fans everywhere to Mario Lemieux. Lemieux won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year and earned All-Star honors twice while playing for Berry.

In 1987 Berry left the bench to work in the Penguins front office but the following year he left the Penguins to serve as an assistant to St. Louis Blues head coach Brian Sutter. When Sutter was fired in 1992 Berry was picked to replace him. In his first year he led the Blues to a second round playoff berth (the farthest he’s ever gone in the Stanley Cup playoffs).

After one more season of coaching the Blues he stepped aside to become an associate coach with Mike Keenan (Berry worked alongside Ted Sator—who now coaches the Colorado Avalanche—and the late Roger Neilson).

By 1998 he was working for the San Jose Sharks as an assistant coach under Darryl Sutter. Since 2000 he has not returned to the NHL coaching ranks but instead has worked for the Blues, Ottawa Senators, and the Los Angeles Kings as a pro scout.

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One Response to “Profiles in Excellence: Bob Berry”

  1. Brad Berry
    March 1, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    Thank you for this information, some of the information that should be added is the win loss record he recorded in los angeles. His season as a coach they had I think 105 points in one season. Also he invented the triple crown line. Also he was elected to the all star team twice as a player. He also swept the chicago blackhawks as a coach when they were the # 1 seed.