One day, your career is going nowhere. You’re playing hockey in a market where you might see a reporter at a practice, or maybe not. You’re packing your stuff to go to the rink wearing shorts and a t-shirt. You’re making plans to have a BBQ on Sunday by the pool… in the midst of hockey season. Whether you score a goal or drag your feet, only your employer notices and even then, looking at the Arizona Coyotes’ track record since relocating from Winnipeg, it’s like even they don’t care. Then you get a phone call: “We have traded you to the highest pressured hockey market in the word… Montreal.”
For some, they would crack under pressure, particularly after two underwhelming seasons. For others, like Max Domi, it’s a blessing. Growing up around the NHL watching his legendary father Tie, little Max knows what hockey markets are all about. After all, Toronto is very much like Montreal in that aspect. As a matter of fact, since his number 16 is retired by the Canadiens in honor of the great Henri Richard, Domi picked number 13 in honor of his favourite player: Mats Sundin.
“That’s 100% why I’m wearing #13. It’s a little bit weird to see 13 with the last name Domi on the back of a Habs jersey. But I don’t really care, I think it looks great. It’s a great number. I wore it my whole childhood.” ~ Max Domi
While it may have felt weird for a little while, seeing number 13 with the name “Domi” in the back on a Habs’ uniform is now sinking in nicely in Montreal. Back in June, I was telling you that it wouldn’t be long before Max would become a fan favourite and guess what? He already is. But why is that? When the trade was announced, there was yet another outpoor of negative comments from reporters and fans alike. Granted, many were the same who still can’t get over the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade, but still.
Then, when Domi sucker-punched Aaron Ekblad and was suspended for the rest of pres-season, those same “fans” were all over him (and the organisation). It’s what I like to refer to as the Montreal Chicken Little Syndrome. Everything happening around the Habs is overblown, whether it be positive or, more often than not, negative.
Yet, Domi did bring a new ATTITUDE. As fans are now noticing, Marc Bergevin knew exactly what he was doing. He brought in a Brendan Gallagher – who ironically is now best friend with Max – but with even more skills. He did not sacrifice talent for work ethics. He went out and got talent WITH work ethics.
“I haven’t been able to stop smiling the whole time. Some people might not want to play in a market like this, other people might want to, other people might not care. I definitely am truly excited to be here and I want to be here, and I’m hoping that this brings out the best in me. and, you know what, excited to step into a team that’s got a lot of great hockey players on it already.” ~ Max Domi
Max Domi has arguably been the Canadiens’ best and most consistent performer since the start of the season. After 13 games so far this season, he leads the team in points (7 goals, 13 points) and unlike Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin, he has stepped into the centre position flawlessly.
We don’t hear much about it but on @max_domi‘s game winner last night, he’s the one who created the turnover by lifting Ovechkin’s stick, leading to the rush up ice. #Habs
Domi is a quality individual, a quality player, who was suffocating in an organisation with no directions, in a market that didn’t care about hockey. He now finds himself in a market with pressure and he is responding beautifully. Oh there will be hiccups folks, rest assured. But you have guys who will succumb to pressure and others, like him, like Gallagher, like Shaw, who have a reputation of using that pressure to up the ante, their game. And he’s only 23 years old.
And just to stick it to Leafs’ fans, here’s a quote that will sure sting more than one, when Tie discussed how it feels to see his son play for the Habs. Go Habs Go!
“It was actually emotional because I was happy for him — original six. It’s a historical franchise. I grew up idolizing Guy Lafleur and the Montreal Canadiens and the winning tradition. I played for Toronto, but Montreal was always my team as a kid, and Guy was always my favourite player.” ~ Tie Domi
The Date: June 22nd, 2018. Location: Dallas, Texas, USA. The consensus: Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will be selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres. Next: Andrei Svechnikov should be selected second by the Carolina Hurricanes. Odds for third overall, selection owned by the Montreal Canadiens: QMJHL product Filip Zadina or stand out prospect, Brady Tkachuk. The rumblings: the Habs would go off the board and select Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the highest ranked centre in the draft at third overall, considered a stretch by many. The results: Shane Churla (former Stars) announces Kotkaniemi as Montreal’s first round pick at number three. The reactions: Priceless!
It’s early, I know. There’s a lot of hockey remaining to be played this season and I will be the first one to admit that I did, for some time now, believe that Kotkaniemi’s place was in the NHL or in Finland. I still believe that except that I think that his chances to stick with the Canadiens are much, much higher now after a dozen games. A dozen games seeing the Habs tied with the Bruins and Maple Leafs, one point from first place in the Eastern Conference, four points back of first overall in the NHL (with a game in hand). Kotkaniemi? Six (6) points in 12 games with around 14 minutes of ice time per game.
Wall of Shame
You see, I’m old school. I believe in accountability which is why I’m so opposed to the Instigator rule (but that’s a whole different topic). It’s easy to flap your gums, be a keyboard warrior, particularly on social media, as most times, no one will remember what you said – or typed – months ago. Guess what? Let’s make some people eat crow, shall we?
First, the Tweet…
Then, the Twits…
Okay, let’s start with the obvious… everyone remember this couple, right? Or the guy with the… P.K. Subban jersey (go figure)…
Back to Twitter now.
The morale of the story is this: have an opinion. You’re fully entitled to it. But don’t you go out there with stupid statements without knowledge… or it’s you and nobody else, who will look foolish when someone takes the time to expose you. How’s that crow tasting today? #GoHabsGo
290. That’s the number of times the Montreal Canadiens have won a hockey game with Carey Price as their goaltender. 290 times, fans went home happy knowing that their favourite team won. 290 times, it was printed in the newspapers, posted online, said on television and on the radio, that the prestigious Montreal Canadiens came out of a game victorious… backed up by Carey Price. And if you are following the team, you will know that in many of those occasions, the win was because of the performances of their goaltender.
With that 3-0 win in Boston, Price became the second winningest goaltender in the franchise’s long history, passing none other than Patrick Roy, ironically with a 33 saves shutout. Next target: the legendary Jacques Plante who, not too long ago, sat comfortably in first place with his 314 wins. That’s only 24 more victories for Price and with the way the team is performing so far this season, and with the anticipated return of team captain Shea Weber, he could very well reach that plateau before the team starts their summer holidays.
But it hasn’t always been easy for Price in Montreal. As a matter of fact, it isn’t easy as we speak. Not long ago, some fans and media personalities were wanting him and his lucrative contract out of town and they would have driven him to the airport. Thankfully, it’s not them making the decisions… as it wasn’t their decision to draft him to start with.
The Canadiens had Jose Theodore who was only a couple of years removed from winning the Vezina and Hart trophies. They also had Cristobal Huet, whom they had acquired from the LA Kings along with Radek Bonk, for Mathieu Garon. And they had Jaroslav Halak playing in Europe. And that’s where it got really dicey.
The Canadiens traded Theodore to Colorado in 2006, and Huet became Price’s first mentor on a NHL team – he always had Olaf Kolzig in the off-season – until Halak proved to be NHL ready as well, which led to Huet being traded to Washington. Ah, the old Price vs Halak debate, how we miss that (NOT). Fans and media were divided, as they are today with this whole Subban vs Weber debate. The Canadiens shocked the world (and the pro-Halak) when, in the summer of 2010, they made their goaltending choice — Carey Price stays and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak is off to the St. Louis Blues.
“We’re very comfortable with Carey Price. He has about 150 games even though he’s only 22. He has a few rounds of playoffs. He has a Calder Cup. He brings a lot to the table and we think he will be a very good goalie in the NHL.” ~ Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier, June 17, 2010
Price, who was said to have the party switch a bit too easy, then received the help that he needed to get his off-ice issues on track with his physical abilities on ice. His mother came to reside with him for a while, until his then girlfriend – and now wife and mother of his daughter – Angela, moved in with him. And that’s when Price’s career took off as anticipated by the Gainey/Gauthier regime.
A dream season
The 2014-2015 season saw one of the most dominant season by a goaltender in NHL history. That year, Price not only dominated amongst goaltenders, he was the league’s best player, ahead of Sidney Crosby and company, and was recognized as such at the annual NHL Award ceremony. That year, Price finished with 44 wins (1st), 1,823 saves (4th), .933 Sv% (1st), 1.96 GAA (1st) and 9 shutouts (2nd). While he was already a NHL All-Star and known as one of the best goalies in the league, that season propulsed him as the best goaltender in the world.
To this date, in spite of some struggles with injuries and team performances, and in spite of criticism by some fans and members of the Montreal media, players in the NHL – the guys who have to face him day in, day out – still feel like he’s the best.
Montreal fans have been spoiled with great goaltending over the years. From Plante to the great Ken Dryden, to Roy and now Price… people should support those great players, as they did last season. Price was quoted as saying that he needed that ovation after the toughest season of his career.
Molson Cup for Montreal Canadiens: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017
NHL All-Star Game: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018
IIHF World U20 Championship Gold Medal (2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships)
Tournament MVP (2007 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships)
WHL West First All-Star Team for 2006–07 WHL season
Del Wilson Trophy (WHL Top Goaltender)
CHL Goaltender of the Year Award
Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs
Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (Calder Cup MVP)
NHL Rookie of the Month, March 2008
NHL All-Rookie Team for 2007–08 NHL season
NHL YoungStars Game at 2009 NHL All-Star Game
Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Hockey at 2014 Sochi Olympics
Best Goaltender at 2014 Sochi Olympics (voted by IIHF)
William M. Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed), (shared with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks)
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
Ted Lindsay Award (most valuable player, voted by NHL Players Association)
Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player, voted by Professional Hockey Writer’s Association)
NHL First All-Star Team (voted by Professional Hockey Writer’s Association)
Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s Top Athlete voted by a panel of journalists)
Lionel Conacher Award (selected by sports writers of the Canadian Press)
Hart Memorial Trophy (received in 2015 playing for the Montreal Canadiens)
Indspire Award (Sports)
2016 World Cup of Hockey Gold medal
And if you haven’t had a chance to see this interview on The National on CBC, it’s well worth the 15 minutes or so. If you’ve watched it, it’s worth re-watching. It not only speaks of the goaltender, but the man behind the mask with tough questions, and most sincere answers. Go Habs Go!
Late August… Back to school sales are full on, as teachers and students are preparing for another year. Summer seasonal businesses are trying to squeeze in every last dollar before the long winter ahead. Hunters, like yours truly, are getting butterflies as they prepare their equipment for the upcoming hunting season, dreaming of a good harvest. And hockey fans are getting excited to finally see their team back on the ice, putting away summer speculation and see first hand the newcomers in action, dreaming of a long playoffs’ run comes next Spring.
Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin didn’t make as big of a splash as everyone seemed to expect by season’s end, as team captain Max Pacioretty, who will be entering the last year of his contract, is still a member of the Habs this late in August and it looks like they might just keep him. But gone is enigmatic Alex Galchenyuk, being replaced by hard-working Max Domi after a deal consumed with the Arizona Coyotes. In a separate deal, Bergevin made great use of his cap space as the Canadiens acquired Joel Armia, Steve Mason – whom the Canadiens bought out immediately – and a seventh-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a fourth-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft in exchange for 21 year-old defenseman Simon Bourque, who had 3 assists in 46 games with Laval of the American Hockey League last season.
It’s been a while it seems since the Canadiens held their rookies Development Camp where we got to see 40 of the team’s best prospects. And we will get to see several of them again as they will be invited to represent the Habs at the NHL Rookie Showdown 2018 in just a few weeks, the tournament being held on September 7th, 8th and 9th at Place Bell in Laval.
“This Showdown, featuring several promising young players from three Canadian teams, gives us an opportunity to monitor the development and witness the progression of the rookies within our organization in a competitive environment, while giving our fans a chance to see the Canadiens of tomorrow in action,” said Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin.
Ready to make an impact?
The NHL is a huge step from any other league in the world and players soon realize it. While playing in the NHL is a dream come through for most players, several of them are driven to making an impact on their team and having a long, successful career. There are always disappointments, players who simply cannot live up to expectations that they, or others, put on themselves. Then you have the surprises, the late bloomers who end up making their GMs and/or scouting departments look like geniuses. For higher picks, it’s just a matter of time to come into their own, find their game and reach the potential most had seen in them for a while now.
The Canadiens are no different. In their ranks, underdogs like Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher have found their niche in the NHL wearing the red, white and blue. Others like Carey Price and Pacioretty took a few years to find their game, only to become impact players in this league. But which of today’s crew are the next Gallagher, Byron, Price, Pacioretty?…
The Canadiens form one of the NHL’s youngest teams, particularly at the forward position, and the vast majority of that group is reaching the age where they should be set to turn the corner in their career, become the players expect them to become. I’m purposely leaving out Domi and Jonathan Drouin who, by the new NHL standards, are considered ‘young veterans’, but both can certainly become impact players on this team. I would rather focus on a few others who, in my humble opinion, are on the verge of becoming key contributors to this Canadiens’ team, one in desperate need of fresh air after a very disappointing 2017-18 season. Here are my picks, in order, of the young players who will surprise many observers, particularly those who are already writing-off the Canadiens’ season:
5- Charles Hudon has been compared to Tomas Plekanec in the past and the veteran had taken the rookie under his wing last season, both literally and figuratively speaking. Plekanec is back for one last kick at the can and he will get a chance to further help Hudon who could very well copy the Czech’s career development. Plekanec had 9 goals and 29 points in his rookie season, and followed up with 20 goals and 47 points the following season. Hudon finished last season with 10 goals and 30 points… He has shown flashed of what he can do, he only needs to find a bit more consistency in his game and Plekanec is a great mentor, a true pro to follow.
4-After surprising everyone with 18 goals in his first season, Artturi Lehkonen is ready to bounce back from a rather disappointing second year in the NHL. If his last 15 games of the season are any indication, where he scored seven of his 12 goals, the young Fin should be able to make more of an impact, particularly that he is no liability on the ice and can be used in all situations in all three zones. While there is no doubt that he is a quality NHL caliber player, the jury is still out when it comes to his offensive potential and Habs’ fans could very well see him become a consistent 20-25 goals’ scorer on this team.
3-Many look at Victor Mete when they think of young puck-moving up-comers on the Habs but Mike Reilly is, in my opinion, closer to having the biggest impact. More experienced, bigger and older, Reilly never got a chance to play quality minutes in a deep Minnesota defensive core and he showed some great things after the trade. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the Canadiens paid very little to acquire him folks, as for having seen him play for a full season here in Penticton, this guy is as talented as they come. It’s just a matter of confidence: from the coach to utilise him regularly, and from himself to believe in his game. He could very well be Shea Weber‘s defense partner when the All-Star defenseman comes back from injury in late-November, early-December.
2-What hasn’t been said about Nikita Scherbak? In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, here’s a summary for you: Scherbak has an excellent shot and sound goal-scoring instincts. Standing at 6-foot 2-inches, he has a good frame for the NHL, possesses very good speed and a very high hockey IQ. He also displays some grit and forechecking acumen, with deceptive moves that will keep opposing defenders on their toes. He had 30 points in 26 games in an injury-plagued season in Laval last season. He will come to camp hungry and ready to show that he can be counted on to produce points at the NHL level.
1-In Winnipeg, Joel Armia was playing on a strong team, one with tons of quality depth at right-wing, as he was over-shadowed by the likes of team captain Blake Wheeler and young sensation Patrik Laine. Playing in the Western Conference with limited ice time behind the players named above, combined with the low price paid by the Canadiens are all contributors to the ‘under the radar’ steal Habs’ GM Bergevin made in that deal, at least in the eyes of the team’s casual and not-so-casual fans and media members. Standing at 6-foot 3-inches, Armia has good size for the NHL game, plus the soft hands and instincts of a natural sniper. He knows where to be to score goals and he also has great two-way upside.
There are a few other notables to keep an eye on for next season, but left out of my Top-5 list. One of them is young veteran Jacob De la Rose. The 23 year-old performed extremely well for Team Sweden at the World Championships, playing a key role helping them win Gold. Need I mention Victor Mete, who will be entering his second season at the tender age of 20? Because of the signing of veteran backup Antti Niemi, few give goaltender Charlie Lindgren any chance of making the big club but he is ready to make a strong push to earn an NHL job. Last but not least, the Canadiens are giving a chance to defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Simon Després, both who have shown some great potential before suffering set-backs in their young career. They both do have the skills to have a positive impact on the Canadiens.
As summer months wind down, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the warm weather, the sunshine, the beach and summer sports. But just around the corner is yet another hockey season where, hopefully, this fanbase can rally and cheer this team on together instead of following the lead of a few divisive fans and media personalities. Go Habs Go!