Thursday, November 09, 2006

Roy`s Jab Deflected, Latendresse Connects With Rebutal

From out of nowhere, a week away from his Hall of Fame induction, former Habs and Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy just missed a good opportunity to shut up.

Roy's comments concerning Habs rookie prospect Guillaume Latendresse were completely off base and out of line - not that it was any of his business to begin with. But Roy will always be Roy.

Roy stated earlier in the week that if Latendresse were not a Quebecer, were he named Smith or Brown, he would still be playing junior hockey at this point. He summised than he made the team based on the media pressure extended by the Montreal writers constant coverage of every move Latendresse made in camp.

To recap, Latendresse was not given much of a shot at making the team when Habs coach Guy Carbonneau declared at the camp that their would be one spot kept open on the team for a rookie. Motivated, the 6`2``, 229 pounder proceeded to get better with each performance before leading the team in pre-season scoring.

One gathers this did not impress Roy.

One also has to wonder where Roy even comes into all of this!

After a little background digging, some Quebec City reporters are stating that a deal was in place that would have had the Drummonville team retaining Latendresse`s rights, trading them to the Roy owned and coached Quebec Ramparts upon him being sent back to junior. Roy`s comment came on the eve of Latendressse`s 11th game with the Habs, thus making him ineligible to return to the league.

Carbonneau, GM Bob Gainey, and Roy have complied twice in recent history regarding goaltenders belonging to the Canadiens organizing. It seemed bridges were being rebuild between the two factions whose ties were irreparably severed by Roy's famous outburst and trade to Colorado in 1995. Last season Roy took on Habs draft pick Cedric Desjardins based on a recommendation from the Habs. Roy returned the favor by allowing the 20 year old goalie to challenge and eventually take the Ramparts to Memorial Cup glory. This season, in a similar move, Roy has taken another Hab signing, goalie Loic Lacasse into the same picture. This only adds to the puzzling nature of the Roy blurb.

Latendresse, seemingly stung over the words, handled it all quite well after hearing of it after scoring his first career goal against the Oilers on Tuesday.

''It's me who's supposed to be 19, not him,'' said Latendresse. ''I will act like a man. I'll leave it to him to act like a child.''

Canadiens head coach Carbonneau told the Montreal Gazette that Latendresse's heritage is not what has kept him on the team. ''It doesn't matter if he's Russian, Czech, whatever. He's earned his place.''

Latendresse doesn't understand Roy's negative comments.

''I don't know why he's acting like that. I've never spoken to him.

''He should be delighted by the success of young Quebecers in the NHL instead of making stupid comments.''

But Latendresse knows there are no guarantees in this league. Asked whether replacing Chris Higgins for a month or six weeks would strengthen his confidence, Latendresse said: "It's an opportunity for me, but we're a better team with Higgy in the lineup. But if I don't play good, I'm going to go back to the fourth line and somebody else is going to take my place."

Latendresse has a burden no other player in Canadiens history has had to bear. Other than the short-lived success of Stephane Richer 20 years ago, the Canadiens have not had a bona-fide French-Canadian offensive superstar since Guy Lafleur retired. (They had Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse for a time, but both had success elsewhere and neither came from within the Canadiens organization.)

Under the circumstances, Latendresse is handling himself well. He is doing interviews every day in French and English, he has the RDS cameras on him constantly, and he is gaining confidence on the ice.

Sounds like a young man who is going to be here for a while.


Wardo said...

Great post.

However, I strongly disagree. As a Montreal fan, of course you know Latendresse's name has everything to do with why he's in the lineup. You even allude to it by addressing "the burden" Latendresse must bear. If his Quebec-ness had nothing to do with why he's on the team, you wouldn't have said anything (and, I also STRONGLY resist that Latendresse is carrying the biggest burden in Hab's history - a heavier burden than say, Maurice Richard did, or Guy Lafleur. Are you sure about that?)

The guy has played 14 games, has the worst +/- on the team, and has one point. And I read in the paper yesterday he's going to see action on the first line. What?!

Roy, being a Quebecer who played for the team obviously knows something about the politics involved in the Hab dressing room. When was the last time an English head coach was running the team, for instance?

The backround story with Roy wanting to acquire Latendresse provides an excellent counterpoint to Roy's assertion, though. History has proven Roy to be a petty man, and the situation you describe is in character for things he's said and done in the past.

Even so, you can't point to that and ignore the fact that so far this season Latendresse has been a decisive non-factor.

Roy is right about Latendresse's name, and you are right to suggest Roy was probably motivated out of spite to take a shot at the young man.

And I think you're also right about Guy - he's going to get every opportunity to stay with the team.

reality check said...

Wardo - I'd just like to clarify on a few points here.

I gathered this post from three different online sources, having missed the story myself when it was outed. A friend had asked about it, so I did a quickie, and posted what you read. About 50% of the piece is my content.

"Burden" is not my word of choice to describe Latendresse's position and predicament. However I don't disagree with quote's aim to show the uniqueness of the players perspective. He is the first teenager in recent memory to have made the team. The last I can recall is a non-Quebecer named Petr Svobada in the mid-eigthies. Stephane Richer at 19, did not stick with the team in that initial try. Thus, this makes Latendresse pretty much a first case in this scenario, quite unique taken on it's own terms, and only a burden if chosen to be seen that way.

What he has and is going through cannot be compared to Rocket Richard, who was somewhat of an an unheralded rookie at a time when media in Montreal was a sliver of what it is now. Lafleur did have a fair amount of pressure in joining the team in '71 as a first overall pick joining a Stanley Cup champion, but again these comparable entries into the bigs are worlds apart in context.

What the Montreal media has done in essense, is cheer relentlessly for this kid. Three other french Canadian kids in line for that last spot garnered their fair share of attention also, but were in the end outplayed by Latendresse.

As I stated, Latendresse got better with each game and made the team on merit alone. No one as astute as Bob Gainey would hand him the spot had he not been able to play through the pressure and earn it. That would have been a recipe for disaster - setting the kid up for almost sure failure if they thought for some reason he could not handle it.

The role he has been given on the team so far attests to the Habs grooming him as a longer term project. He is not being asked to step in and star, but only to play, learn, and fit in. His maturity as a person is being monitered and his conduct and attitude has been exempliary.

However the media in the city wishes to paint it, what is really going on is quite different below the surface. Case in point being the minus 6 stat. Carbonneau has taken to throwing out the 4th line against others teams top lines just about every other game for about three shifts per. This allows him to throw out one of the top two lines against a weaker checking trio on the opposite team. In other words, he's using the Latendresse line to trip the matchups on Koivu's or Kovalev's lines. If the stat does look a touch grim, it must be noted that the ploy has worked well for it's intent. It is also helping to teach the kid to learn from his mistakes, which is part of the goal in his regard.

As for him being a non factor in his first 13 games, it should be understood that he was being judged on a different set of terms than goals or points during that span. With 4th line icetime, the kid is leading all rookies in hits, which is a big part of his game.

Positioning him on the 1st line made sense for a bevy of reasons. he has always been a top line player, that is where he is most comfortable. Players on that line will guide him in his role. He is replacing a player whose main work was in corners and going to the net, a good part of the Latendresse game once again. The move also presnted the team was reconstituting the 3nd and 3rd lines, which are functioning smoothly of late.

One game performance isn't much to judge by, but it looks as though the move went well. He scored his first (albeit cheap in a sense) goal going to the net, was named the games first star, and led with 6 hits and five shots on goal. A decent start considering the route taken to get there and the break he has received.

Finally, to quote and address your comment...

" If his Quebec-ness had nothing to do with why he's on the team, you wouldn't have said anything "

Note that it wasn't my opinion at all, I'm just relating a story I never saw foundation in to begin with. It is usually an outside Quebec opinion, when that old "because he's french thing" arises. In truth, it's hardly ever the case. To reiterate, he led the team in pre-season scoring and earned the spot. Whether or not, poeple see it that way, he has made the team. There was never any debate that he would be sent back to junior.

Possibly only in Roy's mind.

Anonymous said...

what is it about latendresse that makes everybody so crazy? this is a 19-year-old kid in his first season, and we're currently at game 14 out of 82. yes, he has potential, no, he hasn't yet proven that he can reliably live up to it. but that's pretty much to be expected. why does everyone feel the need to label him as either the greatest thing ever or a total disaster? he's neither, yet, and there's no reason to expect him to be.

personally, i think it's just a backhanded way for people to rehash the same tired language politics battles on new terrain. just let the dude play.

reality check said...

No kidding!

It gets tiresome, but it always revolves around those same politics of the story within the story.

That the kid will be a good one should be enough, but the French are a proud people. They will debate what they consider merit to detail and miss the big picture completely.

Sound familiar?

Kudos to the kid for handling it well so far. A few more clutch goals and this story's tilt will disapate.

Long as he stears clear of Hiltonesque groupie nightlife!