You are a young hockey player. At 18, you are drafted to the NHL. To boot, it’s the most storied franchise in the game who called your name. After attending a camp or two, you eventually sign your first professional contract. Immediately, you feel not only the pressure to wear that legendary uniform, but fans are already starting to idolize you. When you finally make the big club, you enter this world of glamour, fans recognizing you everywhere you go. You are young, good looking, with pockets full of money and girls are all around you wanting nothing more than to be the next hockey girlfriend/wife. What could go wrong?
There have been plenty of examples over the years all around the NHL where these situations get to a young player’s head and Montreal is no different. If anything, it might even be worse, hockey being the only major professional sport in town (no disrespect intended to the Impact and the Alouettes), and with bars closing at 3:00 am. The inner circles of corruption and drugs are everywhere and temptation to “live the life” is omnipresent, and young players are most vulnerable to it.
With the Canadiens, we have seen first hand the effect of what I refer to as “vedettaria“, has had on players, particularly on local talents who are placed on an even higher pedestal. Whether it be fans pushing for Guillaume Latendresse to stay in Montreal while still of junior age, Jose Theodore being made bigger than he really was, Mike Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais were preferred to Saku Koivu and Craig Rivet when things blew up in practice… those are just a few concrete examples proving that point, contributing to the fact the Bell Centre had to let them in through the garage door just so their head could fit through the doors.
So pardon me if I am a bit concerned about seeing Jonathan Drouin come in and be the new face of the Canadiens in their promos on Canadiens.com. Jerseys and T-shirts sales, taking on the streets in Montreal doing live interviews with fans, the Habs are obviously taking full advantage of having the most talented young local product in the NHL playing for them. Here’s hoping that the young man keeps both feet anchored to the ground.
Local products weren’t the only ones however and current management has done a good job at weeding out the distractions. They gave Zack Kassian a chance, Marc Bergevin sitting with him immediately after the trade, but his demons were too strong, Canadiens’ GM trading him before the troubled forward could play a single game after he rammed his truck into a telephone poll at the wee hours in the morning. Devante Smith-Pelly loved the nightlife and guess what happened? In addition to him not being the most coachable, P.K. Subban was traded for rubbing his teammates the wrong way, some claiming that his ego was bigger than the team. After several chances, Nathan Beaulieu will now pursue his career under the leadership of… Evander Kane!
The Canadiens almost “lost the handle” on star goaltender Carey Price but Bergevin pushed all the right buttons by bringing his mother to live with him, and his then girlfriend. And Alex Galchenyuk‘s outings have made the news from time to time, management still trying to decide if he’ll turn it around like Price or if his fate will follow Beaulieu’s.
Leadership stepping up
While some laugh at the concept, Bergevin believes in character and positive leadership and that’s why he acquired the likes of former Mark Messier Award winner Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw, Torrey Mitchell and Jordie Benn (amongst others), to better support the existing leaders in captain Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov.
At the end of last season, we were able to witness the newly found friendship between young veteran Andrew Shaw, who took rookie Artturi Lehkonen under his wing. The two were inseparable and Shaw sees a lot of himself in his young teammate.
“He’s [Lehkonen] fun to be around. He’s a kid having fun … he’s enjoying life. He kind of reminds me of how I play. He plays physical, he goes to those dirty areas, he competes, he goes to the net, and I like that in a player. I try to help him out, how he can better his game, what he needs to keep working on, what he needs to keep doing to be successful in the league.” ~ Andrew Shaw
Shaw isn’t the only one taking young guys under his wings, as we have discovered this summer. Earlier this summer, Brendan Gallagher posted a picture on his Instagram account of he and Shea Weber playing a round of golf at Pebble Beach. Ironic in the sense that Weber broke Gallagher’s had with a slap shot previously, Gally is considered one of the team’s young leaders, who is learning from one of the best leaders in the entire NHL.
Captain Pacioretty didn’t take long to reach to newcomer Drouin and the two are training together this off-season in preparation for the upcoming NHL season. The 22 year-old Drouin can’t ask for a better welcome to the City than having the one wearing the captain “C” on his jersey taking the time to train with him, in Montreal.
More recently in an article on Canadiens.com, we found out that 32 year-old veteran Torrey Mitchell is training with 22 year-old Mike McCarron, pushing each other. And McCarron is learning a lot from the veteran.
“This is my first summer training one-on-one with another guy with that much experience. He’s definitely showed me what it takes to stay in the League that long. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever worked out with,” said McCarron, who trains with Mitchell five to six times per week off the ice. “Sometimes you look at him like he’s crazy, but that’s why he’s been in the NHL for so long. Training with Torrey has definitely helped me train harder this summer.”
Where this mentorship will lead to when it comes to on-ice production remains to be seen, but there is not a soul who can see the negative in such collaboration. It looks like Bergevin’s message is getting through and the leaders are, well, just being themselves. And as a fan, I have to say that I love what I’m seeing… and so does management, rest assured. Go Habs Go!