Weekend hockey in August, baby!

I’ve been optimizing my summer break and focussing on being outdoors, enjoying the weather with family, canines and friends. The past hockey season was pretty intense, especially the last six weeks of the Habs’ post-season. After they got knocked out of the eastern conference final by the dirty rotten Rangers, I largely ignored Twitter (I mean until free agent frenzy and the PK Subban contract negotiations) and started enjoying real life. I also needed that break to be able to look back at the season without heartache.

This was a rare weekend without the boyfriend. The boyfriend has the patience and understanding of … I don’t know, Jesus. Ghandi. Someone like that. It’s not like he didn’t know what he was getting into. On our I think second date I sat him down to have The Talk. Second date is too soon? I don’t think so. I like to have things crystal clear right up front so as to not waste anybody’s time.

I told him about this thing I have going with the Montreal Canadiens. I very seriously told him that I was a Habs fan. He laughed and said it was okay. And I said, “Nuh-no – it’s not about us liking different teams.” I’m really serious about these guys. How I grew up that way and don’t know any other way of life, and that I watch every game of the season and if they lose, it ruins everything, and if they win, you can’t wipe the smile off my face. How I have a seat from the Montreal Forum, and how I lined up to meet Maurice Richard and how not having a photo with him is one of my life’s biggest regrets. How I have game day rituals that I don’t deviate from until there’s a losing streak. How The Sweater is the first story I read to my kids and they know it off by heart. How I watch Sportscentre highlights on game night, and am capable of rewinding the same play to watch it possibly 15 times. How the Habs news is the first thing I do in the morning, well, the second, after I put on my glasses.

He looked at me and said, “So … you’re obsessed.” Whatever, I thought he ought to know. And it’s been nearly four years, so obviously he’s cool with crazy.

Except really, Habs fans, we know it’s normal, not crazy. Last weekend, a long one in B.C., we spent an idyllic one in the hot desert next to a cool, rushing river, and darted around on dune buggies and walked into the river to fish when the sun was going down. I caught two, by the way! Anyway, the deal is, in the desert wifi is hard to come by. And it was PK Subban contract negotiation weekend. We went up on Thursday, and all the way listening to TSN 690, I was confident I’d wake up Friday to the news of a deal. Except I didn’t. The two sides went to arbitration and all of a sudden I was in the desert freaking out along with the rest of Habs nation, and it was all I could do to put my phone down and try to enjoy myself, without checking Twitter and Eyes on the Prize, the best website on the inter webs, every chance I got. On Saturday morning, I got up to more uncertainty and decided to ignore everything. Going on Twitter was pissing me off, mostly because everyone was talking about how it was the end of the world and we’d see PK Subban in a Leafs sweater in two years all thanks to Marc Bergevin’s ineptitude. This was what upset me the most – Marc Bergevin has not steered us wrong and didn’t all of a sudden become some kind of idiot overnight. Also, the idea of Subban in a Leafs jersey? Spending my weekend throwing up all over the place was not what I had in mind. So I put down my phone.

And I picked it up again at about 11:25. First tweet that caught my eye was by EOTP, that Bob McKenzie (TSN analyst who loves to passive-aggressively crap on the Habs AND Subban) was reporting that a DEAL WAS IMMINENT. My heart stopped. Then, we HAD A DEAL. I was so relieved. We piled into the car to go stock up on groceries, including bison meat in honour of PK. In the car, I asked my daughter a question about this personal wifi she had heard of somewhere, and she was happily chirping out her answer when I got a notification on my phone and screamed, “EIGHT YEAR DEAL!! EIGHT YEAR DEAL!!” I totally interrupted her and felt awful but she understood and we all whoop-whooped and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Anyway fast-track to this weekend. He works out of town and had to this weekend, so I mostly just dedicated myself to housework and cooking. And the Habs. Because I got to. I re-watched, on PVR, the Habs/Bruins series from May. And found myself almost in tears when Subban came out of the penalty box in game 3 to score that gorgeous breakaway goal. Then I did more. I looked on iTunes for TSN 690 podcasts and listened to all of them from the playoffs. I heard most of them in real life, of course, but not all, because I couldn’t when I was at work. I even went down a rabbit hole and after listening to all of Tony Marinaro’s broadcasts with WEEI in Boston, went to find the actual Boston radio podcasts. And what I heard was some pretty rational hockey people, which irritates me because hating Boston fans is one of my favourite things ever. Then I started to think back on last season, and with the exception of the Rangers series which I can’t bring myself to fully relive, I have to say it was one of the most exciting seasons I can remember.

Everybody knows I’m a Therrien fan. I like the guy. He has the least enviable coaching  job of the NHL and handles it with grace. Therrien 2.0, anyway. The guy is not “your buddy” as Bergevin says, the guy is a coach. He is cold, and cool, and he’s in charge. And he’s smart. And I think that after denial and rage by the majority of Habs nation last season, they finally accepted him after they saw how he handled the playoffs. People still slag him every chance they get, but I’m not thinking he cares very much.

And then there’s Bergevin. He has changed the face of this franchise in a very short turnaround. He gets it. It’s in his blood now and this is a driven, passionate, intelligent leader. There was that game last season, you know the one: Washington. The Habs were on a three-game losing streak in January, and then lost to Washington, shut out, 5-0. And they had a closed-door meeting. In my imagination, here’s how it went down. Bergevin went into that room, looked everyone in the eye, and instead of freaking out and threatening to fire people, said: You’re winners. Forget about tonight, sh*t happens. It’s in the books, and nothing you can do about it now. I believe in you. You’re contenders. And the trade deadline is coming up, and … you’re all staying. I’m adding pieces to help you, and I’m not sacrificing a single one of you.

Look, that’s maybe how it happened and maybe it isn’t, but they won eight of their next 12 games – despite Carey’s absence after the Olympics. And got absolutely genius trade deadline acquisitions in Weise, Weaver and Vanek. And didn’t just make the playoffs, they wound up fourth in the conference with 100 points and then went on to win two playoff rounds, including a sweep, and proved to the world that they were not just a goalie when Lord Voldemort made damned sure that Carey Price would not be a factor in the eastern conference final. They took the Rangers to game 6 even though the experts were predicting a sweep after the cruel Price injury. Character. Passion. Skill. Heart.

There is no point to this post other than wanting to write something after spending a lot of the weekend looking back. And now I’m looking forward. There is so much to look forward to. For the first time in many years, Habs fans have something to legitimately look forward to come October. No more wishful thinking. No more pipe dreams. This is it. We’re not talking about rebuilds anymore, not talking about how in five years we can do it. The future is now, as they say, and right now, I have to … go make dinner.

#letsgetit

Management 101 & The Canadiens

If you’ve been here before or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I spent last weekend in Montreal, and saw the Habs beat the Bruins… in person! It was glorious.

But this won’t be about the weekend, this one is just about the Habs, and where they are now, and why.

I was listening to TSN690 radio in Montreal today, as I do Sunday to Sunday, and on the Montreal Forum show, Tony Marinaro asked the question,

“Was P.Gauthier better GM 4 Habs than we thought? (Acquiring Eller, Bourque, Budaj, Markov & Gorges contracts).”

Look, he was talking about our last GM, Pierre Gauthier. We all know about the guy, and yes, we’re all glad he’s no longer. With us, I mean. I mean, he’s not dead, he’s just gone. From the organization. We wouldn’t be glad he was dead. Just like I’m not glad Margaret Thatcher’s dead, and not that I ever really thought about her ever, but I couldn’t stand her when she got into cahoots with Augusto Pinochet. But she can still rest in peace.

Anyway – Pierre Gauthier (not dead), as it turns out, did not the world’s worst job as the Habs GM, as referenced with his acquisitions in Tony’s tweet. And many, most of the elements of today’s club are carry-overs from the Gauthier regime. So that’s okay. So why, then, was essentially the same group of guys the worst in the east last year, 28th in the league overall, and after tonight, will lead the Northeast Division and be second-place in the east, a position they’ve earned and enjoyed for most of this season?

The short answer is we have a new GM, a new coach, and a new system.

My longer answer meanders a bit, as my posts tend to do.

I went to the Habs Hall of Fame at the Bell Centre last Saturday with the cutest & sweetest bf in the world and another pal. I’ll do a post later on that weekend, but as we were walking through the HHOF, I had tingles, and the history, and being in the same spot as Jacques Plante’s goalie mask, or Patrick Roy’s stick, even the spot dedicated to the original six – I can’t believe the Bruins’ paraphernalia didn’t disintegrate into ashes in that holy spot – and something occurred to me.

I was not surprised in the least as I was standing there and soaking up the experience and history that I would be so moved – I’ve been a fan(atic) and devotee forever. But what I also felt was gratitude. And I mentioned it to my buddy – “What a difference a year makes. All of a sudden, we have our culture back, our pride back. And Bergevin did it in less than a year. A year.”

We’re talking about Marc Bergevin, the rookie GM who came from the Blackhawks organization where he’d been Assistant GM, and where he was for the Hawks’ Stanley Cup in 2010 as Director of Player Personnel. What is it about this guy that was so different from the other guy?

Look, anybody can get a management certificate. You work hard and study hard, read all the books, and you get the nice little piece of paper for your resume and your wall.

The difference between Marc Bergevin and Pierre Gauthier, besides the obvious, which is that the former is hubba-hubba, is chiefly, and most importantly: leadership.

Anybody can be in charge. But it takes a particular quality to be a leader. Manager and leader are not the same thing.

Anybody can jot down all the philosophies, and tack them on the wall for the followers to fall in line with.

You know what leaders do? They believe in the philosophies. They understand that you don’t have a successful organization of moving parts by treating those parts as commodities, and calling them, “Mr.” They want to achieve success as a unit, and believe in the team concept, the family concept. And transparency. It’s not possible to believe in and trust someone who isn’t transparent with you.

A leader believes, and as a result, those around him believe, and believe in each other, and want to achieve success, not just for themselves, but for the organization, the team, each other, their brothers.

So it’s not that Gauthier sucked, it’s that it was purely business for him, just his job. The players were commodities, assets, not people, with egos, frustrations and insecurities. 

There’s obviously no doubt that Bergevin takes his job extremely seriously, but what has made him successful and be the GM of an organization that so quickly did an about-face, and went from the famous “loser mentality” to a “pas d’excuses”, bounce-back team, is his keen understanding of team mentality – that’s the building block for any success.

I don’t think you can teach that. You either have it, or you don’t. That’s why true leaders are far outnumbered by just managers.

So thanks, Geoff Molson, for picking Bergevin, and for having that same understanding of what’s required to build a culture and regain the tradition sorely missed by the fans, and sorely needed by the team. And Bergevin, for hand-picking Michel Therrien for his second go-round as our head coach. Because the result has been nothing short of astonishing.

I won’t doubt a single decision Bergevin makes. Not ONE. NOT. ONE.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

I haven’t posted on this topic since the NHL lockout was announced to have ended on Sunday, in part because I ceased to pay attention to every detail of the “negotiations” since about day 3o of the lockout. So I don’t know absolutely everything about the eventual agreement that was reached, and how, and I do have fear of being denigrated for not being as savvy about it as others who are well-versed.

But this isn’t about that. It’s not about the lockout, or the clash of the millionaires on either side and everything involved. It’s about how I don’t know how to even express how I feel about this.

One of the things I’ve always known to be true about myself is how much I love my team and love to watch them play. And right now, I just don’t care. I don’t care that they’re coming back, and I don’t care when, and I’m not even paying attention to when exactly that will be, and not caring about what should be paramount, which is, are the Habs coming to Vancouver this year? And WHEN.

I don’t. Care.

I was reading about Jimmy Kimmel and how he’s moving to a different time-slot now, in direct competition with Letterman and Leno. Kimmel’s funny. Super funny. I like that guy. Anyway, there was an article about how Jimmy lost respect for Leno, and it made a reference to some book detailing the Late Night war. And my mind wandered, as it does, to thinking, I would totally read a book, cover-to-cover, about this lockout and all the machinations, all the players (not player/players, but participants), and naming the villains and holdouts. But then it occurred to me, that book will never be written, not even by Julia Phillips, whom I’m pretty sure never did Eat Lunch in That Town Again. You know why? This mafia is even more nefarious than Hollywood power players, Bada Bing investors and the Genco Pura Olive Oil combined. Okay, perhaps that’s overly dramatic. But you know what? I’m hurt.

OMG, can you imagine if that book gets written? Calling out AND quoting Fehr, and Bettman?? The best, Jerry, the BEST.

At my work, and I’m sure, at yours, pay is commensurate with performance and expectations, in many measures, be they salary, perks, benefits, bonuses, etc., ad nauseum. If I don’t do my goddamned job, I don’t have one anymore. My own puppy doesn’t get her pig’s ear until she lies down and stays put like a statue until she hears, “Okay, go get it!”

Yes, I know the CBA is more complex than the rules of just your job or mine, or the rewards of a hyper 18-month old Lab. The point is, I couldn’t emotionally identify with the plight of the players in the lockout, which is the level of identification I’m required to attain when we’re talking sympathy. And make no mistake, I really easily sympathize with all KINDS of people, including the people with whom I may have absolutely nothing in common. Still, I also couldn’t put myself in the owners’ or Bettman’s shoes.

So on Sunday, I checked Twitter near midday, which I’d only sporadically been doing recently. And I learned, as we’d pretty much all been expecting, although I was hoping otherwise, that the lockout was “over,” details of the new CBA TBA in a matter of days, no specific timing available. Yay. Not yay. I’d actually hoped they wouldn’t come back now, maybe they’d come back next October, because what is the point of a 3-month season? Seriously. We all love watching hockey, but it’s ultimately all about the marathon.

I was bemused to see a lot of unbridled enthusiasm, a la, “Go Habs Go!” or “They’re back!” or “It’s over!” and I couldn’t join. Which I hadn’t been expecting, really. For all my bitterness, I deep-down still expected to flip the second the lockout ended. But I didn’t. I just kind of felt…pissed off. Like, what, we’re all supposed to be excited now? And it seems like a lot of you are? To be treated to likely 50% of a season we’re all deserving of? Us, the fans, who stick beside you even when you break our hearts? And look forward to playoffs and a Stanley Cup, the winner of which will be the butt of all jokes until the next lockout year? For real?

I once dated someone I was unreasonably in love with, and after a long, unreasonable while, I finally left the relationship. And moved far away. And after months of being better and figuring stuff out, the ex came back, and wanted me back, and called, wrote, left drunk voice messages, proposed, promised to lasso the moon, you name it. And this guy, whom I once couldn’t have imagined living without, simply didn’t move me. I was over it.

Not to liken a hockey team with a well-dodged bullet of a boyfriend, but I found myself feeling like that again on Sunday, no matter who was the bad guy in this lockout.

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…and I just feel like, no. This isn’t working for me. It’s not me, it’s you. It’s totally you.

Still, I keep expecting myself to snap out of it and feel excitement, but it’s not happening. It’s the oddest thing. The last time a lockout and demi-season happened, I was distracted by a rambunctious, exhausting 1 & 3-year-old team of offspring, the pursuit of which did not comply with CBA newsdays or an abbreviated hockey schedule. That season was a write-off for me and I was only irritated, and that feeling disappeared by the next regular season. I had way better things to do.

And it turns out, I still do. Hockey stopped, and the reasons for its suspension got too tiresome to deserve my attention. And the world still turned, and life was good. And it was kind of nice to have freedom in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, which is when the Habs used to have 3 hours of my time, no matter what else was going on. And then, all of a sudden, they’re coming back, and we have to jump up and down. Not feeling it.

Some of the players spoke out, looking forward to the season, thanking the “fans who had stuck by them and supported them.” That was nice. And then, the Habs brass called a press conference and graciously mentioned the fans. This was on TSN:

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As-yet undecided gesture. Sketchy on details. I’ll admit it, I didn’t shed a tear.

At the end of the last regular season, the Habs ended in the basement and didn’t even make the playoffs. But I was still so excited about Bergevin and had such faith in Molson, and was so moved by the genius PR gesture of the Habs giving their jerseys to fans after their last game, that I DID shed a tear, and was super excited about October – notwithstanding the horribly disappointing and heartbreaking season we’d just seen.

I read this in the Montreal Gazette today:

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Here’s the thing: isn’t every game important EVERY SEASON? Every game? Can you imagine if you went to work but decided only Tuesday and Friday would count? You know, sit and wait?

I’m still going to watch, let’s be real. Or you know what, maybe I won’t. Maybe I just think I will because I’m hardwired to do so. We’ll see. One tiny fan doesn’t matter to the NHL, I know, and it’s no kind of protest and is a ridiculous statement compared to say, a hunger strike, over things that actually matter. It’s not even a statement, actually.

Here’s who I’m relieved for: the journalists, and bloggers, who now will have more stuff to write about and be able to do their jobs again. The arena workers, including my little brother, who works at what we all still call GM Place. Sports bars. In Canada. Sports bars in the U.S. have probably been doing all right. And I’m happy that the players get to have a deal they consider to be fair. It’s all relative.

I still love my team, I always will. It will be nice to see Carey, P.K., Josh, Max, etc. again. But I’m not that girl (anymore). It is going to take some serious cartwheels to change my mind about this, hoop jumps, even. Let’s see what happens.

The Opinions Expressed Here Are Strictly My Own, You Big Silly.

You guys, obviously Geoff Molson reads my blog. Because last Sunday I called him out for not hiring a new GM yet, and the very next day, he did.

I’m still learning about the new guy, and from what I’ve read and after seeing the presser, I like him – I’m excited. Molson is actually kind of a genius because he has appeased all the sensibilities of the francophone militants – the new guy, Marc Bergevin, is a Montrealer who is bilingual – so that’s covered. Bergevin also happens to have management and scouting on his resume, being part of an organization when it has won the Cup, and…a personality? This is personally my favourite part. He’s young and fresh and played NHL hockey for 2 decades, and during the onslaught of speculation of who the new GM would be, he was very respectfully spoken of and his qualifications lauded on the radio. God bless Pierre McGuire, who was the runner-up for the job, and who the radio station I listen to, TSN990 in Montreal, unabashedly schilled for the second the vacancy was announced. People on Twitter love to hate Tony Marinaro, but I don’t – more on that later – and in my opionion it was Conor McKenna who was most constant in his promotion of McGuire. It just kind of made me feel icky. I don’t even get why McGuire got that close, to be honest. So he knows people. What does that have to do with the price of…what’s the saying? Anyway, he didn’t get the job and TSN990 still cannot go a day without mentioning him.

Kind of like how I don’t get why everyone and their mother matter-of-factedly think Patrick Roy will be named as the next coach. Why? Why. I simply do not understand. Yes, he was a great goalie, perhaps the best the Habs ever had (by far not the classiest though), and yes, he obviously would give his eyetooth for a chance to coach in the NHL. He himself has been in the press answering all kinds of questions ever since the speculation began, reminding everyone that his ringer’s always on. My personal opionion of this guy is not positive, to say the least, as far as his character is concerned. I recently rewatched that brawl between the Sagueneens and the Roy-coached Remparts, where Roy Jr. went off like a demented rabid animal on the Sagueneens goalie, who was as far from the action as he could get without leaving the ice; and it still makes me sick. And I will never forget or forgive Roy for how he turned his back on the franchise. Sure, Tremblay and Houle could have handled it better, but Roy went against the family in public – like a spoiled kid. There is much more that can be said but I don’t like to talk about him too much; and I just hate how his name is always on everyone’s lips for the coaching job. I really, really, really hope he doesn’t get chosen. There are way more guys out there with actual NHL coaching qualifications to choose from (or poach, even). I really hope that Molson isn’t considering a hot-headed egomaniacal coach with no NHL coaching experience to turn the last place team in the East around.

As for Tony, I actually like him. We all know someone like him, and he’s just a guy with a radio show. The guy’s not Idi Amin. Some people vehemently dislike him but continue to listen to him, which is obviously to Marinaro’s credit. He talks about soccer too much for my taste, but I can’t blame him for that, of course. He’s on a sports station. The things I like the least about his show is all that Italian music he plays or even when he sings. Everything else I don’t mind, and actually like. I like having a radio station that I can listen to the moment I wake up in the morning that is talking about Montreal sports. I seldom am aware of what’s going on in the city I actually live in because I can’t get enough Habs news. Oh but Tony, if you’re reading, I do have a little feedback for you: don’t remind everyone of when you had a scoop and it turned out you were right. I’m happy for you that you were right, but you knew you were right, and eventually everyone who attacked you knew you were right, so there’s no need to remind everyone. It’s unbecoming, and one reason I dislike that so much is because Don Cherry does it all the time. I can understand you wanting to remind all the people who attack you that you were right, but in the end, who really cares about them. You’re still the one with the show, you’re still the one people are listening to (even, apparently, when they don’t like it), and I like you. You seem like a nice person, and it does take character to put up with the abuse you get on Twitter. I’m on your side.

Now that we seem to know who the Assistant GM is, who’s going to be the next coach? This will be huge. And, as with every year, fans will be critical from the first moment anything negative happens. Hell, a lot of fans are critical even when nothing negative has happened.

No pressure, Bergevin. No pressure. Welcome to Montreal.

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