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.

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.

Dear Max

Dear Max,

You don’t know me but I know all about you. Not to sound creepy.

I’ve been following you since that July day when you were drafted to my beloved hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens. I saw your proud face in the picture, so smart in your tie, and the first thing that struck me was the hint of a grin on your face and a mischievous glint in your eye, and the second thing was that you and my then 6-year-old son share the same first name. I always instantly “adopt” anyone who plays on my team, but sharing my boy’s name made you a little more special. I was looking forward to seeing you on the ice wearing the coolest jersey in the league. I was so delighted for you that your very first sweater would be the one that most every kid who grows up playing hockey dreams of wearing one day.

I watched you play your first game, thinking, “I like the new guy!” The kids and I would always cheer a little extra for you when you got a point (“Woohoo! MAX!”) and we’d miss seeing you when you played for the Bulldogs.

Last year when you played your amazing stretch for them, lighting up the AHL, I was excited to see you back in Montreal and seeing what you’d surely accompish there. When I heard your radio interview where you candidly said you were more than happy to stay exactly where you were, so you could PLAY, I was so proud of you. And you made me laugh. But I have to admit I worried your words would make it even harder for me to see you again, since I couldn’t imagine that the Habs’ brass would be too happy with your point of view.

They shocked me by doing the smart thing anyway, bringing you back to the NHL and giving you the ice time to put your money where your mouth was. And did you ever. Such a pleasure to watch you, see your grin, and give so much cause for Habs fans to celebrate, time and time again.

I’ll never forget January 8, 2011 during the game against the Bruins – I had to leave home in the middle of the 2nd period, to go to attend a Canucks game. I’m not a Canucks fan, but when the boss invites you as one of his guests in the corporate suite, you just don’t say no. Anyway, I left home, and we were down 2-0. The Habs/Bruins matchups, as you well know, are the ones that fans of both teams look forward to all season. And being down 2-0 had me bummed out, not gonna lie. I listened in my car on the way to Rogers Arena and hopes got dashed for any comeback. I got to the suite, and turned the TV on just in time to catch Gomez’s power play goal and that got me crossing all my fingers and toes as the seconds ticked away in the game. When Gionta scored the tying goal with your assist, I’m pretty sure they could hear my whooping and hollering all the way in Montreal. When you scored the OT winner, I’m pretty sure my family could hear me. In Chile, I mean. That look on your face as PK came to jump on you! I was jumping around so much I didn’t notice that you’d tapped the hulking Chara on the back until later when they played back the reason he got so upset. Not gonna lie, it made me snicker. Big deal! I realize he and his whole team had just been humiliated in Montreal, which has got to be the worst for them, so it was kind of the last thing Chara needed from you, but I mean, it’s not like you hurt anything but his pride. And we the fans had just been treated to a heck of a game, and bragging rights to a perfect season against the Bruins so far.

The next matchup against the Bruins was on February 9th. Oh good lordy what a spectacle that game was! 14 goals in total, fights and penalties galore! I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Two of the best goalies were taking turns letting goals in minutes apart, and the towering Bruins couldn’t wait to start fights with any old Hab that crossed their paths. Chara was after you that game – I particularly thought his slash to the back of your legs, which had to hurt, was in pretty poor form. But it was very clear that Mr. Chara holds a grudge, and was not going to let up until he got you back for tapping him in the back the previous month. He was thirsting for your blood during the big brawl, and I was elated to see that this 7’5″ or whatever he is, 255-pound, 33-year old did not get the piece of you he clearly intended that night. The 8-6 loss really hurt, as you know every loss does, but it does stink when Bruins fans gloat over beating us. They have to enjoy it you know, because they  don’t get to gloat over us very often. But this loss – they were acting as though they beat us 8-0.

I saw you up close and in person when you were in Vancouver on February 22. Did you hear me screaming “Max!!!” every time you skated by me? I was the loud Chilean at ice-level during warmups, snapping furiously away on my pink camera. You did shoot a puck at the boards precisely in my direction – twice. Come on…do you remember?

When you guys played Tampa Bay last Saturday and you scored twice in the 4-2 win, I tweeted this:

I honestly don’t know what I enjoy more – your goals, or your ear-to-ear grin. OK, the goals. But the grin’s worth a million dollars.

On Tuesday, March 8th, Habs nation was excited. The Bruins were back in Montreal. I started the day listening to Tony Marinaro on the Team 990. He played a recording of his interview with a Boston radio station, where they were loudly, interruptingly and obnoxiously trying to goad him into an argument, talking about how Habs are dirty, how the Habs started all the fights at the last meeting, how the Habs are dive-artists, the worst in the league. Because clearly, the Bruins, in their eyes, play a perfect, flawless, respectful style of hockey. Snort. Tony handled himself with a lot of class. I would not have. Then Twitter was all a-twitter with quotes from some dude in Boston who was tweeting quotes from Merchant, Marchant, whatever his name is, trash-talking the Habs. I forget where I first heard the term, but he was sure acting like quite the disrespectful rookie. It was clear the Bruins were riling everyone up for hopefully another eventful game that would involve a whole lot more than simply playing hockey. The Habs weren’t biting. The only agenda that evening would be to play our game, skate, be disciplined, score and beat the Bruins as usual. Early in the game Ryan White had to take matters into his own hands when…I wanna say Bergeron, went after PK Subban. White won his fight hands down, and got an instigator penalty (what?!). It doesn’t matter. The Bruins turned up absolutely bubkus during their power play.

In fact, they turned up absolutely bubkus from then on. Haha. They were making tons of mistakes and looking worse and worse as the Habs put in goal after goal. Lars Eller was having such a special evening, putting in two goals, and Gio and Wiz put in a couple of power play goals, and my friends and I were high fiving and woop-wooping all over the place.

I’m back. I had to go away for a few minutes because what I’m about to write you makes me very emotional. As the seconds were ticking down at the end of the second period, you went racing after the puck after a faceoff. The enormous Zdeno Chara went racing off after you. He knows what you’re capable of, and the man still had that axe to grind with you. You were not playing the puck, and this veteran decided to take what in his experience he knew was going to be a penalty for an illegal hit, but was gonna be so worth the penalty. The rest seemed to happen in slow motion.

Max, I cannot tell you how I felt when I saw you knocked out cold on the ice. The close up of your face, your lashes giving me for a tenth of a second, the vision of my own Max’s thick black eyelashes on his cheeks when he slept as a baby. My eyes filled with tears, because it’s awful to say, but I thought Zdeno Chara had just killed you. And it chilled my blood to see him defiantly skating away from your crumpled body, surely finally satisfied that you’d gotten what you deserved. I was sickened, disgusted, and horrified, thinking what your parents must have been going through, their beloved son on the ice after what the replay showed to be a devastating, crippling hit. I saw your eyelids flutter and my heart leapt. It seemed to take forever for the team of doctors, and your teammates, to load you onto that stretcher. There are tears in my eyes as I write this now. I cannot imagine, and it breaks my heart to think about, what this absolutely gut-wrenching sickening few moments was like for your loved ones.

Your team went on to handily win the game, but all anyone could think about was you. No one cared about the win, no one cared about the Bruins.

I went to sleep that night only to find that sleep would not come. I was so furious and enraged over the most disgusting thing I’d seen in all my years of watching hockey. It was made all the worse because it stemmed from what seemed to me to be a filthy, vengeful move over a silly gesture made during a celebratory moment 2 months earlier. I could not get over my rage, and somehow found sleep while my rational side told me I’d be cooler in the morning. Well, I wasn’t. If anything, I was angrier in the morning. My first thought was of you. When we received the news that you had a serious concussion and a broken vertebra, all I could think about was you, your family, the team…and the thought that surely, Mr. Chara would be unable to live with himself, and what he did to the season of such a promising young player.

What ensued these past couple of days has been discussed ad nauseum so I won’t rehash it here. But I and the rest of the Habs’ and your fierce fans have been following every moment. Rejoicing over the news that you could speak and were using your limbs. Hi-fiving and celebrating the news that you were walking around. Astonished over the news you’d gone and checked yourself out of the hospital 2 days after having your neck broken. Truly we should not have been surprised. The day after having your ribs cracked this year, you were all, “what? I’m playing tonight.” I cried again when I heard your emotional statement to Bob McKenzie of TSN, and I was also once again SO PROUD of you for speaking candidly.

Max, I want to take this opportunity to say, on behalf of Habs fans who have been living and breathing every snippet of news about you for the past 100 hours, we love you. We fervently wish for your complete recovery, and are looking forward to seeing you back with our boys when that day comes. We are proud of you and you are in our hearts.

Love,

Veronica

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