Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

I’ve been on a Stevie Nicks kick for about a week. You know how when you hear something you haven’t heard in a long time then go into a phase? Like that. It started when she was on American Idol last week or maybe the week before – she was “consulting” with the contestants. Whenever anyone else consults they look like an ass and it’s obvious they’re there as filler so Idol can greedily gobble up as much airtime as possible. Not so with Stevie. She cares. And she’s awesome.

I’ll bet you think this post is going to be about 30-year old music you probably haven’t even heard of and how ancient I am. It’s not. It’s about the Habs. Of course.

No matter what generation you’re from, there will be a point in your life when all the music you hear you think directly applies to you. Like, “Oh, my god, they looked into my soul, saw what that rat-bastard who said he loved me and would love me forever was saying and doing behind my back, and then they wrote this song.”

So it’s funny, but listening to Stevie, I started thinking – all of this applies to a very high-highs, low-lows, tumultuous relationship I’ve had for the past six months.  A heart-wrenching, sickening relationship. The kind that makes me laugh, and cry, and want to throw up from the anxiety.

My dysfunctional relationship with the Habs.

We all know that this season has been a write-off since about January, and although I claimed to hold onto hope and have faith in mes boys, I had that 1,000 pound rock in my stomach that knew otherwise.

“So you had a little trouble in town,
Now you’re keeping some demon down,
Stop draggin’ my, stop draggin’ my, stop draggin’ my heart a-round”

It’s totally what they did, although I’m sure it was unintentional. Get me hoping, like waiting-by-the-phone-waiting-for-it-to-frigging-ring hoping, lifting my hopes with decisive wins and stringing them all together like popcorn, only to send me crashing back down to earth when they decided my feelings didn’t matter anymore. Heart. Draggin’. All OVAH.

But during those moments when I realized everything the Habs were doing was not actually all about me, I got a little maternal and my heart just squished for them.

Imagine this bunch of guys, and the B.S. they’ve been put through by their fans, by the media, by management, coaches, everything – I can really only count maybe 3 or 4 games this year that I thought they were phoning it in. And I had admiration. I felt their hopes rise when their coach finally got canned about a season too late, and loved them as they stood by their new coach and fought hard for him. Under their new coach, they got to communicate and were also communicated to. They started scoring goals, lots. And enjoyed getting to score even when they had a lead. I was so happy for them.

They had a bunch of wins in a row then, for the first time in forever, and it felt like all we could do was win. And there came a point in the season when they had about 24 games left, and they could still make they playoffs if they kept streaking and won 17 out of 24 at least. I could tell they wanted it. My heart started hoping and believing they would do it. Seventeen.

But from the moment that I first laid
Eyes
on
him
all alone on the edge of
Seventeen

I remember that magic number.

Then we saw it dissipate before our very eyes. We were all fed up, screaming for a house-cleaning of monumental proportions, from the TOP DOWN GODDAMMIT, and just…what were they even waiting for? We’re talking about the “Yankees of Hockey” – and a franchise that had become a laughingstock. It was sickening and embarrassing. With the apologies for hiring an anglophone coach, who they pretty much cut off at the knees even before he coached his first game, by telling everyone he was temporary. Nice.

I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted that job. But take it he did, that Randy Cunneyworth, and despite the cries for his head and harrumphing over his lack of acceptable language skills, he held his head high, and even shyly tried out a brief French phrase when meeting his would-be lynch mob face-to-face: “Je suis tres content”. It was such a sweet phrase. He won me over. I was already on his side, truth be told – I always take the side of the guy who’s being treated shabbily. Always. Especially in this instance – he wants to coach these guys he cares about, but all anyone, or at least the squeakiest wheels, could talk about was the fact that he couldn’t speak French. I thought, and tweeted, that if I were Cunneyworth, I’d tell them all to shove their French up their butts and coach my team and do what was actually important – win games and communicate with the players. Not communicate with the media. What the hell was this? This was supposed to be about hockey. Then I’d take my last paycheque at the end of the year, flip everyone the bird (no I wouldn’t but I’d want to), and go get a better job in a different market.

And the rest of the NHL world was clapping with glee at another reason to make fun of us. The stupid language debate. And the team got behind their coach, with Carey even saying during interview something to the effect of, “gee, sorry I’m not francophone, I’m just trying to tend goal,” and the like.

It was not lost on me that some of the most derisive scoffers were Leafs fans. For a time, it appeared the Leafs were in a playoff position. And astoundingly, these fans of this team who had for the seven previous years not even made it to the post-season, and whose team had not won a Stanley Cup since the NINETEEN SIXTIES!! felt entitled to be in a position to look down their nose at us.

Hey Leafs fans, whatcha gonna do with that parade you were planning, btw? Maybe dress the Leafs like bunnies and call it an Easter parade.

After that inevitable, crushing game where we were finally officially mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, it was just a couple of days until the Habs’ owner, the fully bilingual Geoff Molson, held a press conference and announced that the General Manager and Bob Gainey were leaving the organization. And he talked about the franchise. The storied franchise. And restoring it to glory. And doing right by the fans, the best fans in the sport. And about how winning is the only acceptable outcome; how simply qualifying for the playoffs is not the goal, the ultimate goal is the only prize; every season; no lesser standard can be accepted. The Cup. End of.

The speech, carefully delivered in both French and then English, gave me chills. It was brilliant.

Then I wanted to eat my own head when I heard the first question of the Q&A: have you decided that the ideal profile for the new GM be that he is bilingual?

Molson’s response made me want to leap out of my seat and fist pump in the air (but I couldn’t because I was listening in my car while driving to work but I screamed out a YAAAAHOOOO!) – “Um, um… la réponse est NON.” Of course, being in Québec it will be nice for the eventual selected candidate to speak French, but he carefully would not say it was a requirement. Just a nice-to-have. Lots of people listening on Twitter were saying he was being sneaky, and to read between the lines, but let’s not forget: this is the guy who gave his blessing to a “uningual anglophone” coach in this market; interim or not. I’m quite liking the cojones on this guy. And how many years have the Leafs been sucking in general, for example, and how long has Burke had his job? Molson basically gave his brass 2 seasons. Then he did what was right. AND, seemingly and genuinely (to me) listening to the fans. The guy opened a Twitter account, for god’s sake. He also made some veiled digs at the exiting GM, saying that the new one had to be an “excellent communicator.”  The last guy was not so much with the communicating. With anyone. And the dude was bilingual.

Now, all the names being bandied about since the presser thus far are French, but there has been no selection or announcement made by the Habs organization, and Molson made clear that the selection and process would be completely confidential – and refused to bow to the francophone-requirement questioning. “La priorité #1 est trouver la meilleure personne.”

Molson’s response to another question: ” The third element, which is difficult to quantify, that undying desire to win…at all costs.”

I’m crossing my fingers that they go out and find the best, most kick-ass person for the job. I don’t care if he speaks 14 languages, or only one. And I believe that this team, with so much character, who could have thrown in the towel weeks ago (hi Leafs), but have had a great few last games, even winning 5-2 tonight, have got the stuff now.

Markov is back.

Gionta will be back.

Carey is still focussed.

Pacioretty, Desharnais and Cole give us all reasons to celebrate.

Subban is developing beautifully.

And we could get a terrific draft pick!

Can you feel it? It’s just early days of Spring, but I smell October. I smell it. The old coach and the old, pasty GM devoid of any character or personality or affection for the team are GONE. There’s all kinds of possibilities now. And I can’t think that the core bunch of guys on this team, who continue to show that they care even in the twilight of this black season, will do anything but change things around for us.

Stand back, stand back!

Just 2 more games now. Last one’s against the Leafs. I don’t care about what the stats say or what the standings say – Saturday will be fun. And beating the Leafs will be VERY fun. I will continue to watch every second of hockey that the Habs have left.

And it’s going to be an exciting off-season too, non-hockey readers. Sorry. There will be blog posts.

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Coaching in Montreal & Bilingualism

It’s been less than 24 hours since I heard of Jacques Martin’s firing. I’m on the west coast, and if the puppy doesn’t get an exhaustive outing first thing in the morning, there is hell to pay for the rest of the day. So I didn’t sit down with coffee and iPad in hand to read news and check Twitter until about 4 hours after the story broke.

I speak 3 languages, and as someone whose employment has always depended on having the 3 languages, I feel I can speak to this issue. I worked for the Canadian government in Chile – speaking Spanish, French and English was a requirement. I’ve subsequently worked for Canadian companies with interests in South America; my language skills made me the preferred candidate for each of those positions. I also recently obtained my certification as a Spanish/English translator; obviously, knowing those 2 languages is a requirement for that.

Being bilingual in Montreal is not a requirement; in fact, only French is the official language there. You must speak French if you want a job in the belle province. I get that, and have a deep appreciation for that. I love the city of Montreal, it’s my favorite city in Canada. And I LOVE the French language, and sympathize with and fully comprehend the people of Quebec who fiercely protect their heritage and language.

Speaking French, however, is not a requirement for a coach to be employed by the National Hockey League. It’s an implicit requirement for being the coach in Montreal. I consider it a “nice-to-have”. Nice to be able to communicate with the Francophone press and citizens. But that’s all.

The coach of a team SHOULD have the respect of his team, and should be able to communicate with the PLAYERS. Having the added prohibitive “requirement” of speaking French pares down the talent pool considerably, and has routinely adversely affected the talent search in that city.

Last I checked, Francophone media have no problem interviewing Montreal Canadiens players, of whom, I believe, only one can speak French. So why not speak English with the coach, too? And then use the bilingualism to translate resulting news pieces? It’s not hard!!

The issue in Montreal is purely political, it’s not about hockey. Hockey is about assembling the best available talent, players and coach alike, then going out and winning games. And winning the Cup. THAT’s what hockey is.

I believe Pierre Gauthier has been scrambling to save his own skin by throwing upset Canadiens fans proverbial bones with the firing of Perry Pearn, the Spacek trade, and now the firing of Jacques Martin. But you have to admire his “cojones” by naming an interim coach who is not fluent in French. The Francophone press is not happy, in fact, it’s all they seem to care about. Let’s give Randy Cunneyworth a chance – if he doesn’t do a worse job than Martin, it’s already a step in the right direction.

French Canadian ex-player and coach Guy Carbonneau said it best at his press conference after being fired by the Canadiens, when asked the “all-important” question about which French speaking coach might replace him, and said the fans shouldn’t care if the coach could only speak Chinese, as long as the team won the Cup.

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