Hanging The Turtleneck

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Sunrise Florida, June 23rd, 2001. With their first round pick, the Montreal Canadiens are happy to select… from the University of Michigan, Mike Komisarek. With their second first round pick, the Canadiens select… from Avangard Omsk (Russia), Alexander Perezhogin. Quebec National holiday, the St-Jean Baptiste is in full course, June 24th, 2001, same location. The 37th overall pick belongs to the Montreal Canadiens who select… from the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos, Duncan Milroy. All this time, there’s a young Czech wondering if his name will be called to fulfil his dream to play in the highest caliber league in the world, the National Hockey League, in North America.

He had to wait to pick number 71 in the third round, before his name is finally called. With their third round pick, the Montreal Canadiens select… from HC Rabat Kladno in Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec. For those who are curious, the Canadiens also selected in this draft, Finnish defenseman Martti Jarventie, center Eric Himelfarb (Sarnia, OHL), defenseman Andrew Archer (Guelph, OHL) and another Czech, right-winger Viktor Ujcik. Who would have thought back then that Plekanec would be not only the longest serving Canadiens, but the one playing the most NHL games of that group? As a matter of fact, Plekanec played more NHL games (1,001) than the seven other players combined by a wide margin (685)!

“It’s great in many ways. He scored the goal, it’s his 1,000th game. We win the game. There’s all the reasons in the world for him to be happy and have a real good souvenir about his 1,000th game. He looked like a guy who had drank from the fountain of youth tonight. He was really skating well. He had lots of energy. You could see he was excited to play his 1,000th game and he wanted it to be a real good memory for him. So I really liked his game.” ~ Claude Julien

We’re not going to put you through his career highlights, plenty of other blogs and/or media outlet have done so or will do so in the next little while. Here, I simply want to thank Plekanec for the person that he is, the true and true professional that he is, and what he stands for. Over his long NHL career, he has had a multitude of different wingers ranging from high end Alexei Kovalev, to some grinding forwards. He was asked to play an offensive role and always did so by being very reliable in his own end. As a matter of fact, had the definition of the Selke Trophy not changed to become yet another offensive award (Pavel Datsyuk won it while not playing on the penalty kill), Plekanec probably should have won a few.

Never a peep about him in the media which, in Montreal, is almost unheard of. One of the first guys at the rink, on the ice, one of the last off the ice. He has always taken good care of himself. Quiet leader, he cherished teaching the ropes to young players. Plekanec took Artturi Lehkonen under his wing when he broke into the league and just recently, Charles Hudon was praising his return to the organization after a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season as Plekanec was a mentor to him last year. Pleky1000

There was (and still is) a mutual respect between Plekanec and team General Manager Marc Bergevin and many believe that when he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last season, there was a verbal agreement that Pleky, as his teammates call him, would return this season to play his 1,000th game in a Habs’ uniform, a game in which he will have scored his last goal in the NHL. Fun fact: new Canadiens’ sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi was born the year Plekanec was drafted.

It is with mixed feelings that I watch him retire in mid-season. Part of me is thrilled that he was brought back to play this milestone in a Habs’ uniform. Part of me is sad to see him fade away without winning a Cup with the team where his heart has been since June 2001. So long Pleky. On a team so rich in history, you may not have accomplished enough to get your jersey number 14 retired in the rafters in Montreal, but your blue turtleneck will be hanging in the hearts of Habs’ fans for a long, long time. Go Habs Go! 

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One Down, Six To Go: Kotkaniemi Scores!

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Pre-season is upon us and the Montreal Canadiens got things going against the New Jersey Devils last night, in a game that won’t be remembered passed then next game… except for Habs’ prospect and league’s third overall pick at the last NHL Draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who got a feel for what it’s like to score goals at the Bell Centre. And judging from his smile, it’s something he quite enjoyed and could get used to.

After the Devils, who were then leading 1-0 in the third period, got a goal called back – which should have counted by the way – the Canadiens took over the game with three goals in just over a minute and that was enough to bring hope to fans in dire need of something positive after a very disappointing season last year. Antti Niemi and Charlie Lindgren split the duty in net while Charles Hudon, Victor Mete – on a nice feed by Michael Chaput – and Kotkaniemi found the back of the net for the Habs. Unfortunately for the Canadiens however, rugged winger Nicolas Deslauriers left the game and was taken to hospital for precautionary measures after taking a solid right in a fight that he eventually won.

Mission accomplished

A few players stood out from the crowd in this game:

Charles Hudon was all over the puck and had a few solid scoring chances before eventually scoring from a tough angle.

The pairing of Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen was solid, picking up where they left off last season. Mete could have scored another goal but was robbed in the slot earlier in the game.

Michael Chaput is proving to be a very versatile player by winning puck battles, killing penalties and setting up Mete on a beautiful feed, all of that while playing a physical game.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is gaining in confidence. Prior to scoring his goal, he set up Hudon with a nifty backhand pass. While far from dominant (yet), he was also solid in his zone and showed flashes of what he can do.

It will now be time for group B to show what they can do when the Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers on Thursday night also at the Bell Centre. Game starts at 7:30 PM and it is televised on RDS and TSN2. Go Habs Go!