Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Playoff Picture

Here's how the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks heading into the final two weeks. Each team away games are in capital letters.

Current Standings - March 30

6-Tampa Bay 88 (78-42-32-4) was* / car / flo*/ ATL*
7-New York Rangers 87 (77-39-29-9) PHI* / tor*/ NYI / mon / PIT
8-Montreal Canadiens 86 (78-40-32-6) buf* / bos / NYR / TOR
9-Toronto Maple Leafs 85 (77-37-29-11) pit* / NYR* / phi / NYI / mon
10- New York Islanders 84 (77-36-29-12) OTT* / nyr / tor / PHI*/ NJ*
11-Carolina Hurricanes 84 (78-38-32-8) FLO / TB / atl* / flo*

Four points separate six teams, so anything at this point is still technically possible. The pro's and cons for each teams chances are as follows:

Tampa: They have they most wins in the bag, and don't play a road game until their last match in Atlanta. They are 3 points up on the non playoff teams as of now, though two of those teams own a game in hand. As inconsistant goaltender has been their undoing of late, coach Tortorella has named Johan Holmqvist as his starter in goal the rest of the way. A split of their 4 remaining games should place them in the playoffs.

Rangers: One point behind the Lightening, Rangers have 3 of 5 left to play on the road, with 4 of those games against teams below them in the standings. They should make easy pickings of the Flyers and Islanders. One additional win against either of the other three opponants should clinch it it for New York. The Montreal and Toronto games will not be easy as they are perhaps in a more desperate place than the Rangers are. Their five remaining games are in an 8 day span. They hold their destiny.

Montreal: The Habs must win three of the final four and hope it doesn't come down to the last games in Toronto. A loss against Buffalo could derail the playoff express. Jaroslav Halak will continue in goal until fate is decided. Destiny is theirs if they sweep 4 straight, not an easy task. In their favor is their win column total of 40. With two wins added, none of the three teams chasing them can surpass 42. Points gained in extra play losses are not negligable added to this scenario.

Toronto: Three of the final 5 games are very tough challenges. Should they drop two of the first four, they need to hope Montreal does the same and catch them on the final night. The Ranger game is crucial to their outcome. A loss combined with a Montreal win could be almost fatal. Their destiny seems linked to Montreal fate at this point. Should Toronto win all 5 games, they would jump ahead of Montreal and make the playoffs. Their five remaining games are in an 8 day span also.

Islanders: Without goalie DiPietro, chances are slim. Two losses will pretty much eliminate them. With three road games and consecutive meetings with teams in the thick of the race might be too much to deal with. The Islanders practically need to sweep and hope either Montreal or Toronto wins less than three of their remaining games. The Islanders end the season on a Sunday when most teams have already finished the schedule.

Carolina: In the same boat as the Islanders. They must win 4 games and pray. Home and away games against the pesky Panthers are the only seeming breaks in their favor. By the time they play in Tampa, it could be all over. As three teams ahead of them own a game in hand, they will need help to get in.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Jean Beliveau Honoured

The Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey was quoting former collegue Michael Farber, who once observed that "nobody understands ceremony better than the British royal family, the Catholic church and the Montreal Canadiens."

Last night at the Bell Centre, the team honoured the legendary Jean Beliveau with a charity dinner that raised more than $1 million for six children's hospitals across Quebec.

The dinner brought together a star-studded guest list from the worlds of sports, politics and business. A performance by Cirque du Soleil added to the evening's excitement.

But it was Beliveau who stood above the crowd with his regal presence. There have been Canadiens stars like Rocket Richard or Guy Lafleur who have evoked more passion than Beliveau, and there have been players who have scored more goals and more points or won more Stanley Cups.

There has never been a player who demonstrated more class.

I was fortunate enough to watch Beliveau play his last few seasons in Montreal. I have vivid memories of the 1971 Stanley Cup and a hat trick that produced his 500th goal against the Minnesota North Stars. My father would tell me stories about The Rocket and Le Gros Bill, tales that wrapped me in the passion of the sport and the team.

I remember him telling me that Beliveau was retiring. I couldn't understand why - he was still one of the better players around.

Beliveau was my father's favorite player - they were born on the same day and year - my father soon pointed out another legend in the making to me, Guy Lafleur, who would become my favorite over time. On a night I will never forget, Lafleur's Quebec Remparts were playing against Cornwall, and he put on a show. He wore the number of his hero, Jean Beliveau.

There was something about the ceremonies and honouring of Beliveau at this time that troubles me some. As Beliveau is 75 years of age, I sensed an air of finality to the timing and proceedings.

In 2000, Beliveau was diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his neck and throat area. He survived that scare and it is now in remission.

Beliveau, as everyone knows, is an extremely charitable man with lending his time and effort to dozens of worthy causes, most of them involving children.

The finality of which I speak, had to do with this one big bash, held in his name last night. I sensed it, subtly, in the manner it was done. Beliveau has always done his good work in a quiet type of way, removing himself as the center of attention. While always being a willing partaker in anything for goodnesses sake, none of the events were "about him."

This one seemed that way to me.

There is in fact absolutely nothing wrong with that premise - only that it struck me the way it did.

Beliveau is obviously about to slow down his ongoing work. Hopefully there is no other reason for that other than the age of the man. A night like like last night, obviously could not be envisioned for 5 years down the road, when he would be 80 years old.

It is said that the event has raised close to a million dollars that are to benefit several charitable outlets. I find it quite amazing that the great work he has cultivated over decades can culminate in such a beautiful giving way.

There are painfully few, if any, role models of the sort left to rise from the sporting pages. Though a great many do tons of good work, none quite have the same effortless lack of pretension that Beliveau has.

In Beliveau's first act, as a hockey player, his prowess and class on the ice made him a legend and a story for the ages. There are of course many records and Stanley Cup rings and tales that underline a bursting resume of unimaginable success.

In Beliveau's second act, he has outdone the first. In the spirit of giving, he has proven to be a most exemplairy human, a person worthy of the highest admiration.

Few people I've encountered in my life, and I've only met him once, have made me look at myself and ponder changes. Changes as to how I treat people. Changes as to how I feel what life is all about in the grand scheme of larger things.

That notion surprises me! It shouldn't.

As I have been reading a whole lot on Jean Beliveau of late, here are some links that I've found to be interesting and entertaining. I've included a pair of past postings from this site as well. The You Tube clip below is from the HHOF's Legends Series. Enjoy!

Beliveau Lends Class To Fundraiser - Red Fisher

NHL Greats, Prime Minister Turn Out To Honour Habs Legend Beliveau - Montreal Gazette

Beliveau Is A Hero On And Off The Ice - Montreal Gazette

Jean Beliveau at Joe Pelletier's Legends Of Hockey Network

Une Vie Qui N'a Pas Ete a L'abris Des Coups Durs - Bertrand Raymond

Pas Toujours Facile - Bertrand Raymond

Beliveau Is A Player For The Ages -

Canadiens Beliveau Is One Of A Kind -

Beliveau's Linemates Are His Biggest Fans -

Canada's Walk Of Fame Inductees

Jean Beliveau Profile - HHOF

Jean Beliveau Table Hockey Game

I Shared My Husband With The Public - Bertrand Raymond (Translated)

Celebrating The Generosity And Lifetime Achievements Of Jean Beliveau -

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"I Shared My Husband With The Public" - Elise Beliveau

By Bertrand Raymond in today's Le Journal

Elise Beliveau met the man of her life on the occasion of a blind date organized by a group of her girlfriends who were so completely taken with an 18 year old Jean Beliveau, a star at the time with the Quebec Citadels, that they could not approach him themselves.

Mrs. Beliveau says without a hint of shyness, that she was being used that day.

The girlfriends were trying to find a way to invite Jean to a dance, and Elise was the only one of the bunch who had a vehicle. It seemed like the best way, to have her chauffeur him there.

"I didn't even know who he was!", she recalled, smiling. "My friends were just in love with him. They all wanted to go out with him. They asked me to accompany Jean to the dance. I was doing it for them."

Both Jean and Elise were 18 at the time. She remembers that he seemed very timid that night, speaking little. Not a very good dancer.

Once the night was over, Jean looked around as everyone was heading off, as if to suggest, "Well then, who am I following with?"

At that moment, Elise found her nerve. "You, you're coming with me!"

Elise will again be at his side tonight as the red carpet of the Bell Centre unfurls on the occasion of the social event of the year in Montreal, namely "A Tribute To Jean Beliveau." The event is said to be raising over one million dollars, to be split amongst 6 hospitals and charitable foundations.

Prime Minister Harper, and Quebec premier Jean Charest will attend. Legends from the Canadiens will be there, most notably Dickie Moore, in his first public appearance since being involved in a car accident that came close to claiming his life a few months back.

There will be Ken Dryden, and the Big Three of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe, brothers Frank and Peter Mahovlich, Guy Lafleur, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Butch Bouchard, and Elmer Lach. Old rivals such as Gordie Howe, Johnny Bower, Rod Gilbert, Ed Giacomin, and Tony Esposito will also be on hand.

Elise's night of dancing with the star of the Quebec Citadels, of course, contributed greatly to radically changing the course of her life. Two and a half years after the chance historic meeting that made her friends drool in envy, the woman married her Prince Charming. That was almost 54 years ago.

She remembers what she immediately liked about him that night. He seemed like a good guy, with a solid head on his shoulders. "A fine man", is how she called him.

Not much about him has changed since according to Elise. He has remained exactly the same man she's always known. Straight as an arrow, polite, honest, and a man who in over fifty years has never cheated or deceived his family or his public


Le Gros Bill became one of the biggest personalities in the history, not only in sports, of Quebec. A strong character, without a speck of dirt on him, he could have been Canada's Governor General had he chosen so.

What does it mean to spend over 50 years alongside a man of such integrity, who has watched over every part of his public image, with an extreme attention to detail? A man who would never accept that anyone tarnish his reputation?

Has Elise Beliveau, a woman who enjoys a laugh and a good time, who qualifies herself as a partier, ever felt trapped by the lifestyle and image of her illustrious husband? Has she suffered in silence, with an inhibition to just let loose, like she did back in the wild days when they first met?

"When you're younger, a lot crazier, it's quite alot to have to concern yourself with such things as image, but I can't say I've ever had any problem with it."

Their only daughter, Helene, found out early just how particular her father could be when it came down to the details, image wise. She was maybe 16 or 17, an the occasion was a teenagers party in the home.

When the parents arrived home, Beliveau immediatly set his gaze upon a case of Labatt's beer. A riot act was read upon the discovery by the man who had been for all intents and purposes, a lifelong employee of the Molsons Breweries.

"I thought he was going to go into cardiac arrest", laughs Helene, remembering it today. "He was all worried about what everyone would think. He could not comprehend that there was no way I could have known this, being all of sixteen at the time."

Elise recounts that her famous hushand was also quite consciencious of what went on around him. He's never had to work on any image aspects. He is much like his own father, Arthur, who was always a kind and peaceful man.

"For Jean, being that way, the way that he is, is completely normal behavior. He just enjoys people. He's patient around people and patient with me. He has a heart of gold. He wouldn't harm a fly. I have never once heard him say a bad word about anyone, and that includes what is said inside the four walls of our home. He's just not that type. He never sees the bad in anyone.

There are advantages to being the wife of Jean Beliveau. Elise admits to having had a wonderful life. Her only regret would be that she wishes she had spent more time with him over the years.
"Jean belongs to the public", she says. "We've had great times. We have travelled alot and met many interesting people, but at the end of the day, I have shared him with the public."


When Beliveau's wife and daughter are asked to speak about the man, one doesn't get the impression they have much to add to what's already known of the man who has watched over his family, and his two grand daughters, Mylene and Magalie, who hardly knew their own father, a policeman who took his own life.

That he's so well known, doesn't stop them from speaking with great admiration of him.

His greatest quality?

"He has many" says Elise, without hesitation. "His patience is always impressive. He has a heart of gold. Anything that he can do for anyone, he does it."

"His biggest quality is his generosity", says Helene. "His four girls, as he like to call them, have surely benefitted."

But doesn't he have the right to have a fault or two?

Elise thinks about that for a second, reflecting on the notion, but doesn't come up with much.
Perhaps age has made him a touch irritable at times, is all she suggests.

"Other than that, I dont know that he has any faults", she adds.

Helene, on the other hand, is totally perplexed at the question.

"A fault eh?...Hmm. A fault", she murmurs."It's ridiculous, he has to have one! I'm stumped, I can't think of one. It's impossible that my father doesn't have at least one. The only answer that I can offer, is that his qualities are so large they overwhelm his faults. I'm trying to recall the last time he got on my nerves. Just like that, I can't recall anything."

It is strange, noticing that the image Beliveau has cultivated in the public eye and in the media, is no different than how he's perceived by those closest to him.

Considering all of his athletic achievements, his community work, his spotless reputation, his generosity, and his legendary goodwill, could Beliveau really be Mister Perfect?

"I never really looked at it that way, never saw it like that", says his daughter, "I'm almost inclined to say you're right!"

Celebrating The Generosity And Lifetime Achievements of Jean Beliveau

Over a thousand guests from the world of sports and the business community will gather on the Bell Centre ice surface tonight to pay tribute to a man who dedicated his entire life to the game of hockey and to the well-being of his fellow citizens. A revered member of the Montreal Canadiens family for over half a century, Mr. Jean Béliveau will be surrounded by his family as we celebrate his lifetime achievements.

The evening will be true to Mr. Béliveau’s values with all proceeds from the event, in excess of $1 million, to be donated to the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation, which in turn will share out the entire amount to five Quebec pediatric institutions: Ste-Justine Hospital Foundation, the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, Montreal Shriners Hospital for Children, the Centre mere enfant du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, the Centre femme, jeunesse et famille du Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke, and to the Quebec Society for Disabled Children.

Several former Canadiens’ stars will be on hand, including Émile Bouchard, Elmer Lach, Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Réjean Houle, Guy Lapointe, Frank Mahovlich, Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau. Players from the Original Six era will include superstars Red Kelly (Detroit and Toronto), Johnny Bower (New York and Toronto), Rod Gilbert (New York), Tony Esposito (Montreal and Chicago) and hockey legend Gordie Howe (Detroit), who will be among the distinguished guests honoring Mr. Béliveau for his achievements over the past 55 years.

"I never really asked myself why I gave back to the community, said Mr. Béliveau. I felt it was one’s duty to act that way and I started doing it while playing in Quebec City, before arriving in Montreal. The Canadiens and the Molson Brewery always supported me in my charity work. It seems that it will be a memorable evening and, I am deeply touched to know that so many former teammates, opponents and celebrities will be attending, added Mr. Béliveau. It is very heartwarming. But I’m mostly happy for my wife Élise, my daughter Hélène and my two grand-daughters Magalie and Mylène. They deserve the recognition and I really look forward to sharing this wonderful evening with them and with my friends."

Following the pattern of a hockey game, the evening, hosted by well-known television producer Robert-Guy Scully, will be divided into three periods, each one covering a segment of Mr. Béliveau’s public life: the 1st will take us back to his early playing career, first in Victoriaville, then in Quebec City; the 2nd frame will focus on his greatest moments with the Canadiens, while the 3rd period will be a tribute to his years as a team ambassador and his philanthropic endeavors.

A legend in his own time and one of the best players ever to play in the NHL, Jean Béliveau enjoyed a highly successful 18-year career with the Montreal Canadiens, recording 507 goals and 712 assists for a total of 1,219 points. He earned several individual honors, including the Art Ross Trophy (1956), the Hart Trophy (1956 and 1964) and the Conn Smythe Trophy (1965), but his proudest achievement was to be chosen as Captain of the Canadiens and capture the Stanley Cup on 10 occasions and seven more times as a member of the Canadiens’ management.

"It's My Turn To Score..."

Translated from Pierre Durocher of Le Journal

Even though the toughest games are yet to come for the Canadiens, with first rate opponants in the Senators Friday, and the Sabres the next night, Guy Carbonneau's players have every rightful hope of making the playoffs based on the positive roll the team has been on for a good two weeks now.

After the teams youngsters set the tone for earlier wins, the veterans have now followed suit. Coming quickly to mind, is one Alex Kovalev, architect of back to back two goal games, and saku Koivu, with 4 assists against the Rangers, and a goal and 9 helpers in his last seven games.

It is well known that when the two K's are in full fledged mode, the Habs roll like a well oiled machine.

The Canadiens, to make the point, have scored 16 goals in their last 3 games!

Kovalev is enjoying the opportunity to silence critics, by helping the team make the post season.

Carbonneau stated after the 6-4 win over the Rangers that this is Kovalev's favorite time of year.

That's all well and nice, but why doesn't our enigmatic number 27 always approach games with the same determination and desire as he's shown in past two games? Such is the constant mystery of the man.

If Kovalev played in this manner all season, the Canadiens would have already clinched a playoff berth.

We've seen Kovalev attack the net against the Rangers, scoring both goals in an umfamiliar spot for his of late. He had developed a nasty habit of toiling on the periphery of the play, often firing pucks from a distance rather than in close.

Recently, it is as if he has decided to accept paying the price to score.

Yesterday, as players took in an optional skate, Kovalev explained what has been going on with him.

While maintaining that he hasn't done anything particularly different or special of late, Kovalev said that he isn't "working any harder than usual."

"I'm giving my all to help the team make it. This is the best time of the season. Earlier on, other players were scoring while I wasn't, now it's my turn to score. It's good for the team, and basically hockey is a team game. Everyone is contributing now and the team is winning."

Kovalev was not available to the media after the Ranger game, as he was being attended to by the medical staff, who were working on the cut he received above his right eye.

"I was cut right before scoring my first goal. It's nothing serious, it had just become swollen."

The 34 year old Russian explained why he seemed to be going toward the net more of late.

"Earlier on, I was often in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was trying to be patient with the puck and make plays, but the puck would be playing tricks on me."

"Now I head straight for the net, the thinking is that my linemates, Lapierre and Latendresse, will get the puck to me, or I can jump on a rebound."

Kovalev says that there is good complicity with the two youngsters, even though he's scored three of the four goals alongside of Koivu and Michael Ryder on the powerplay.

"I try to help the two young ones out, without giving the impresssion I'm putting on a hockey school. My only goal is to make the line have success.

Kovalev has decided to put a cross on events beyond his control that he was involved in during the past month.

"I don't even want to talk about that. I just want to concentrate on making the playoffs."

He admits to being very primed in this crucial games. "It's very invigourating to be in this situation, where the games have a big outcome on the standings. You'd think we were already in a best of seven series since the wins are so important in the next 4 or 5 games. The crowd at the Bell is incredibly loud. Its a great stimulant for the team."

Habs In The Drivers Seat

Okay, I've done all the figuring...Hab fans... enjoy this post!

The Montreal Canadiens were hoping for some outside help in their playoff drive and they received it from teams in the lower echelon of the Eastern Conference standings.

Tuesdays 5-2 Florida win over Tampa Bay, helped the Canadiens gain a 7th place tie with the Lightening, two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes, who were seeded ninth. With the 'Canes 5-1 loss to Philadelphia Wednesday night, the Habs became the beneficiaries of a slight cushion in the standings.

Hey Philly and Florida, we own you one!

What this does for the Canadiens, is provide them with a small margin of error, namely one loss in their final 5 games. Prior to these unexpected wins by playoff also-rans, the Habs would have needed to pull off wins in all 5 of their remaining games to make the post season.

Hopefully, they do not fall asleep on this cushion of a gift from above - or below!

The key to Habs standing is the wins column - the first in any tiebreaker format. As the Canadiens have 40 wins with five games left to play, their recent win streak has clearly placed them in the drivers seat. Should they win them all, they are in the playoffs. No tiebreaker or three point scenario's can undo that fact.

To clarify, the Hurricanes have 38 wins, two less than Montreal with no games in hand. The Islanders have 36 wins, 4 wins less than the Canadiens, with a game in hand. Toronto has 37 wins, three short of Montreal, with a game in hand.

All three teams are 2 points back.

No need to remind those following this impassioned race that the Habs last regular season game is in Toronto against the Leafs.

Here's hoping it's a meaningless tilt at that point.

While a Montreal loss or two could shuffle the perspectives, their wins in hand, if you will, might become the difference. In other words, if the Canadiens maintain the margin of more wins than the others until that last game, that dreaded Leafs contest would be without meaning.

The Habs would need four wins to eliminate all three teams, while three wins cooks the books for the Leafs and Isles.

Should Montreal go on to win 3 of 5, and Toronto win all six of their remaining games, including the last game against the Habs, Montreal's season record versus the Leafs, would give them the nod in the 2nd tiebreaker of the formula.

The Islanders would need to win all 6 remaining games, with Rick DiPietro on the shelf, and hope the Habs win just 2 of 5 to skip ahead of them.

Carolina then becomes the prime concern.

As both teams have five games remaining, 4 Montreal wins does the Hurricanes in - the wins column tilting in the Habs favor. Should the Canadiens win only three, Carolina would still need to win all five of their games to pull ahead of the Canadiens, as 4 wins by Hurricanes, in the event of a point standings tie, would still leave them with one less win than Montreal.

Should the Canadiens and Hurricanes deadlock in points and wins, Carolina would then advance ahead of Montreal as they have won 3 0f 4 regular season meetings.

It might not get that far as the Hurricanes schedule is a tough one. Home and away games against the Lightening, themselves fighting for a slipping spot, another home and away set with the prickly Florida Panthers, and a tilt with playoff bound Thrashers might just well undo the defending Stanley Cup champs with one untimely loss.

Montreal faces Ottawa Friday on the road, and Buffalo at home the next night. They meet Boston for their final home game before taking on the Rangers and Leafs on the oad in succession, in what might well become meaningless games should they win the first three and anyone else lose.

For the record, Tampa Bay, who have one win more than Montreal and sit 7th, have a pair of tilts against Carolina at home and away, with Washington at home between those games. They end their season with a home game against the Panthers before finishing up in Atlanta.

The Rangers, the only remaining team of the six ahead of the Canadiens points wise, face the Flyers on the road, Toronto at home, the Islanders on the road, the Habs at home, and finish with the Penguins on the road.

All in all, for the Canadiens, acceding to the playoffs is all about three wins in the five remaing games.

This coming weekend's back to back Ottawa and Buffalo games are crucial. One win in either is a big timer. Should they win one of those, they would then face a lame duck Bruins team, then games against the Rangers and Leafs that could hardly matter.

I like those chances, don't you?

I do, for the simple reason that none of the Canadiens last 5 opponants are as desperate as they are!

Here's hoping the seize what is before them!

Previous posts of interest - playoff showdown race.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Prime Minister Harper Visits Typhoons

I'm not a big fan of any politicians, as a matter of principle, and have little concerns of afiliation with any political party, as they all seem pretty much interchangable in the grand scheme of things.

Now that I've gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let me say that I think it's kind of cool that our current PM Stephen Harper is a hockey fan.

Harper is actually an involved hockey dad often taking his son Ben off to games and practices whenever he gets the chance.

I missed out witnessing this scene this past Sunday, while my daughter's team was playing it's final playoff game in Ottawa at the Kennedy Arena. Ben's team, the Sandy Hill Chargers, were playing right after Poke Check's team.

The Harper's, arriving at the arena early, were surrounded by a virtual motorcade of secret service types, all in dark shades, and surrounded Harper like five Semenko's around Gretzky, as he entered the arena. My daughter said Harper exited his black 4X4 and was immediatly enveloped by the men who circled him as he entered the arena.

Once inside, our hockey fan Prime Minister proceeded to mingle with the players and parents from both teams and was even game for a few quick photo ops.

Of all the games I could pick not to go to, it had to be this one!

I would have enjoyed chatting up the PM, as it is told he is an enthusiastic hockey historian as well.

The kids themselves, who are on average 12 years old, got quite a kick out of the whole deal. My girl said that Harper asked them all about how their team was doing, what position they played, and how much fun it was to play hockey.

When asked if he would stick around for some pictures, he was happy to oblige, even waiting around while a parent ran to their vehicle to fetch a camera.

Harper doesn't own up to it publicly, for votes sake I gather, but he is an ardent Maple Leafs fan. I coulda had some fun with that.

After her game ended, my girl and some teammates went across to the rink where Harper's son was playing, to watch the end of that game. As it started only minutes later than theirs, the Chargers game had gone into a shootout. Curiously, Ben took one of the breakaways, and missed!

From my daughters standpoint, the funniest part of meeting Harper was when the girls were placing themselves around him in the dressing room for the pictures. As they shuffled to get into position, one girl went to step around the PM and stepped right on his shoe, scuffing it up some, accidently. Poke Check said the girl received a bit of an odd glance from the PM on that one. It seems some of the girls were giggling under their breath as the culprit got what appeared to be a dirty look from our country's boss. ( In the second photo, you can even see one girl holding her hand to her mouth as she tries not to laugh! - she didn't do it!)

Hey, it beats a pie to face!

For more on Harper's hockey excursion to the arena with Ben, check this out.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Plekanec Helps Habs To Gel

Six weeks of line juggling by coach Guy Carbonneau has finally settled into some winning line combinations. The coach owes no small amount of thanks to his steadiest player, Tomas Plekanec.

In a promising season derailed by two flu viruses, team chemistry issues, goatending concerns, a tragedy, and a pair of Russian gossip sideshows, the dust has cleared to reveal a similarly strong set of four lines comparable to those that had early season success. Getting from there to here hasn't been an easy task.

Lately, the coach has seemingly blown up the early season blueprint. Combinations of players mired in slumps so deep were cast away, and the coach has gone with what has worked best. As often happens, happy coincidences such as the exiling of Sergei Samsonov, the Alex Kovalev elbow and vertigo incidents, and the callup of Andrei Kostitsyn, have led to the constant shuffle stabilizing itself into some very workable trio's.

The gel giving Carbonneau a starting point has Tomas Plekanec for a name.
The Canadiens center was the teams best player for the months of January and Febuary when everything else on the club was going south. The well rounded player has been on close to a point per game pace throughout all the mire, which seems odd as little else was working with any consistancy.

A newly formed trio of Plekanec, Kostitsyn, and Chris Higgins has been the Canadiens main thrust in it's playoff surge down the stretch. The combination of grit, speed, and strength has caught unsuspecting teams off guard, as it gathers the oppositions best checkers as well.

Added to Plekanec's side, Kostitsyn has been something of a revelation. Though it took him a matter of games to get going, the Belarusian winger has learned that in using his size going into the tighter spots, it has enabled him more puck time to put to use excellent passing a shooting skills. The kid looks as strong as a bull out there, to the surprise of many.

Higgins on the other hand, is working harder alongside Plekanec. Used to relying on his talent around the goal while paired with Koivu, Higgins in now placed deeper in the offensive zone. His three assists against Boston last Thursday attest to his success as a playmaker whose grit is essential to a line's prowess.

Again, one must point to Plekanec as the glue holding the three together.

What the Czech center does with very little fanfare is cover his wingers well. Not only does Plekanec feed them passes that originate from the middle of the ice, he has an instinct for knowing when, and when not to, commit himself deeply into the opposing teams zone. He has, after all, been groomed as a responsible two-way forward and is quickly developing into a better than average face-off man.
Earlier in the season, when saddled with Sergei Samsonov and Alex Kovalev as wingers, Plekanec hadn't been able to justify his skills and assets. Most often, Kovalev handled the puck, taking it over the blue line with the play dying at the right boards. It was unknowingly playing into a teams trap setup. On the lines opposite side, Samsonov, starving for puck time, would grab the thing, spin and auger himself into the ice.

Saddled with Samsonov and Kovalev as wingers, Plekanec hadn't been able to justify his skills and assets. Freed of greedy wingers, Plekanec has been able to do his thing.

Success has led to Plekanec receiving more ice time, and we all know what happens when that occurs. The confidence Plekanec has accrued has quickly translated to his wingers, who are not unfamiliar with his game, as the three were paired (How's that for a Yogi Berra-ism?) together in Hamilton prior to graduating to the Canadiens.

Another offshoot of the sound Plekanec line has been that it has enabled the Habs top line of Saku Koivu's to become more defined. With sharpshooter Michael Ryder on one side, Carbonneau places either Steve Begin or Guillaume Latendresse for some added crash and bang. Ryder and Koivu have employed the newly created space well. Ditto for Alex Kovalev, who is less domineering when centered by Maxim Lapierre. Taking some of the focus off himself has also freed Kovalev to be more creative, and that's the key to his success.

If the Habs are playing at home, Carbonneau has the choice of countering the other teams top line with the Bonk and Johnson duo. The pair has been completed at times with the likes of Begin, Latendresse, or Mark Streit. Should Carbonneau choose to undo matchups he feels are to the other teams advantage, he inserts the Plekanec vis-s-vis the opposing top lines.
As Carbonneau is a strong beleiver in rolling four lines, exactly how does an opposing coach treat a third or fourth line that features Alex Kovalev, Maxim Lapierre, and Guillaume Latendresse? As no team wants to line it's three minute a game goon on Kovalev, it binds their posibilities.
That style of coaching is a Carbonneau trait, and is likely the key to the teams surprising third period record.

Having a steady goaltender who prevents defensemen's necks from spinning 360 degrees like Linda Blair on Red Bull hasn't hurt the team either.

The conundrum that is the 2007 Habs been a difficult one to analyze. The team still parlays the leagues best powerplay, while being ostensibly brutal 5 on 5. It has amassed close to a third of its points (24) in third period comebacks. So where's the team during the first 40 minutes? It was also ranked a league best on the penalty kill when a lack of discipline sabotaged the PK unit's steadiness. Considering all this, why is it that a team that started the season seemingly well, and is ending it on positive notes, still fighting for its playoff lives?

It certainly is a puzzle to ponder, especially while many of pieces are fitting in place.

One of the first things Bob Gainey suggested when taking over the GM's role 4 years ago was that it is simpler to take players and make them better, than it is to get better players.

What I'm seeing is Gainey's team concept plans coming into fruition. It is a plan exemplified by players such as Plekanec, who are growing into their roles.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Day Bob Probert Knocked At My Door

By Thom Racine

It was a normal day off, after working a weekend night shift and sleeping until noon. I knocked the cobwebs out and grabbed a stale cup of coffee, when the phone rang to tell me that a visitor would be dropping by.

He looked a little different than I expected, and for an instant I thought I might have to start ducking.

Bob Probert was on my doorstep. He heard I that wanted him to sign some things and was taking a few minutes to oblige me.

I shook his hand as he entered and instantly realized I was shaking the very set of knuckles that had been so feared for 15 NHL seasons.

You can feel the barely veiled anger in his handshake, and see the scars that came with the job that made him the stuff of legend.

Much has been written about Bob Probert, and not all of it good. His very public private life makes him less of an enigma, if he ever was one at all. Because Probert is so revered, we tend see him differently. We rehearse what we would say to them if we ever got a chance, and if and when it happens, we forget everything and stand in a fog. Players are used to it, in fact are likely embarrassed - for us.

The obvious topic of discussion when you meet Probert would be to go over some of his bouts - Crowder, Domi, Coxe, McSorley or Semenko.

What one tends to forget is that along with 3,300 penalty minutes, are close to 400 career points, including 163 goals with the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Probert also added 48 playoff points in 81 games along the way.

In a way it may mean more to him one day than any of his epic battles. Make no mistake he knows what people associate him with and I am sure he must catch himself day dreaming from time to time as he hear's the crowd at the Joe rise to their feet in unison as he would get set to square off.

I was in that crowd once, and experienced the sight first hand.

That same Joe crowd let him know again, during his introduction on Steve Yzerman's retirement night this past January, just how much they love him. After all he has put himself through on and off the ice, he smiled, saying the ovation made him feel pretty good.

The topic I wanted to discuss with Probert took place on February 13th, 1999.

That night, Probert was not the usual suspect to accomplish the feat of scoring the last ever goal at Maple Leaf Gardens. On November 12th, 1931 when the Gardens held it's first game the Hawks won 2-1. The Hawks Harold "Mush" Marsh scored the first ever goal in the Gardens. As the Hawks had opened the Gardens, it was no accident they were invited back to close the hockey shrine.They won again, this time by a 6-2 score.

Bob takes the story from here.

"I scored with about ten minutes to go in the third period. There was lots of time left to play, so I didn't think about it too much. Guys were keeping their goal pucks that night, and at the bench the trainer would tape the puck and put it away. Then with about four minutes to go I thought about it and figured I might have a chance, and how cool would it be."

"Then the ref called a penalty on us, there was about a minute and a half left in the game. I remember thinking they don't want me to be the guy. The Leafs did everything but score. I thought they might come and take the puck to the Hall of Fame but I still have it, and it's for my son one day. It could have been anyone that night but I'm glad it's me.I have the stick too" he added.

Probert's five minute autograph session had turned into an hour in my home. This notorious legend was as much a little boy as I am every time I open the door to my sports room. He talked about playing in Anaheim's home opener and was surprised when I pulled out a ticket stub from that very game.

He looked at cards he had collected as a kid and, like all of us who collected, remembered them and that gum that came with them. He found a few pucks from Windsor area teams that he either played for, or knew guys that did.

Lately Probert has been doing some speaking engagements about his career, and the demons he has faced.

He plays in old timers games and hopes to play here in town one day. He even took a couple of jabs at the heavy bag in the garage reminding me that it's still ingrained in his psyche.

As he walked away, I could not help but watch him head up the street where five neighborhood kids were exercising their Canadian right to play road hockey. As he approached the game he leaned towards his right, I am sure he said something as they paused ever so briefly to let him walk through. None of them had any idea who had just walked by and that was the best part. I smiled because I knew. It really was one of those great Canadian hockey moments.

Bob, your legion of fans hope that you continue to have the courage to face every day, and know that you made my day when you knocked on my door.

(Note from Robert L - I was about to post a story on Probert this afternoon, as I'd read about his hockey school via a link from Mirtle's site. At that very moment Thom reached me with this article on Bob, so I'm including my bit here as well. Probert has a little known connection to Cornwall, if I were to divulge it, he might well bring his knuckles to my door! Thanks for the puck, Thom.)

A caricature of Windsor's Bob Probert on the cover of a brochure for his hockey school is definitely eye-catching. Seated in the penalty box in his Detroit Red Wings uniform, there's a bandage under Probert's right eye and instead of hockey gloves.

One of the game's toughest customers ever is ready to go, wearing Everlast boxing gloves.

Probert appeared in Toronto last Tuesday, taking in the Leafs / Devils, or shall I suggest, the Belak / Janssen tilt, while also making stops on TSN's Off The Record and Leafs TV.

The Bob Probert Hockey School will feature Probert and guest instructors including current Red Wings Chris Chelios and Kyle Calder, former Wings Joe Kocur and Petr Klima and ex-Toronto Maple Leafs Dave Hutchison and Ernie Godden and will offer training in passing, shooting, stickhandling, skating and goaltending.

Probert has been a busy man of late, and you can read all about what he's been up to here.

Don't Rush Price: Kolzig

(Note: A commenter of this piece has linked to my Habs 75 goalies post from a few days back. In case anyone has missed Stubbs' articles, both sections of it are reprinted below. Following the Gazette link will provide additional Kolzig audio. Stubbs also wrote on Price back on March 13.)

Washington Capitals goaltending star Olaf Kolzig, who made 36 saves in his team's 4-1 loss to the Canadiens' victory on Saturday, is in a unique position regarding Montreal blue-chip netminding prospect Carey Price.

In the fall of 2004, shortly before he purchased a large piece of the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans – Price's junior team the past four seasons – Olie the Goalie spent several months working on and off the ice with the 17-year-old.

Kolzig now hears the suggestions coming from many corners that Price might well be in the Canadiens net as early as next season, and he recalls his own experience, stepping from junior directly into the NHL – for a very brief spell.

An update: Price was named first star in Saturday's 2-1 Tri-Cities victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds to tie at 1-1 the best-of-seven WHL divisional semi-final playoff. On Friday, Price made 30 saves and was beaten just once in the 2-0 series-opening win for Seattle, the Thunderbirds' second goal coming into an empty net.

A junior with Tri-Cities in 1989, Kolzig began that season in Washington, playing two games for the Capitals just months after being their first-round (19th overall) draft choice. He was returned to the Americans to finish up the year.

Kolzig spent the better part of the next four seasons in the minors, and while he doesn't recommend that kind of stay for Price, he wonders what's the rush to get the promising youngster into the NHL, before he's seasoned a little as a professional?

(Note: This is the Dave Stubbs piece in today's Montreal Gazette, dated Sunday March 25, 2007.)

Red, white and blue-chip goaltending prospect Carey Price says he’s coming to the Canadiens training camp next fall to earn a job in the Montreal net.

Don Nachbaur, Price’s coach with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, believes his junior star could make the huge leap to the NHL in a single bound, without benefit of seasoning in the minors.

But Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, while hailing the 19-year-old’s physical gifts, mental strength and the poise he showed in leading Canada to January’s world junior title, is a slightly leaky, quite sensible cloud over the Price parade.

A 15-season NHL veteran and co-owner of the Americans, his junior alma mater, Kolzig questions the rush for Price to be thrust into a Canadiens net.

"Montreal has a different set of pros and cons than 29 other NHL cities – the history of goaltending here, the scrutiny and the pressure," Kolzig said Friday over an hour-long coffee at the Capitals downtown hotel.

"Carey has the physical ability to make the Canadiens, there’s no question. And while I think he could handle the pressure well, it might be too much, too soon. I don’t see him making the team here next year because of all the other things that go with being a goaltender in Montreal."

Kolzig has played his entire pro career in the Capitals organization, drafted in the first round, 19th overall, in 1989. He began the 1989-90 season with the Capitals, playing two games before being returned to Tri-Cities in upstate Washington.

It was another three years before he’d be back in the NHL for a snack, five before he had a main-course taste following stints with four American and East Coast league teams.

But Kolzig, 37 next month, believes that two championships he won in the minors built the foundation for his NHL career, which has earned him two all-star games, the Vézina Trophy, a trip to the 1998 Stanley Cup final and legendary status with his adoring Capitals fans.

"Goaltending is the hardest position to make the jump (from junior to the NHL). You don’t realize how big it is," he said. "It’s one thing to impress over a month, but it’s totally different to do it over a full year.

"There’s the skill of the players you’ll face night in and night out, the pressure of being paid to perform your best every night. There’s living on your own, managing your money, doing the everyday stuff as an adult that a kid takes for granted.

"I’m an old school guy, and I think that everybody, no matter what level – with exceptions like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – should spend at least a year in the minors to go through that grind so that when you’re in NHL you really appreciate where you’re at."

This said, Kolzig is dazzled by what he’s seen from Price, the Canadiens’ first pick, fifth overall, in the 2005 entry draft.

They first met in September 2004, during the NHL lockout when Kolzig fine-tuned the 17-year-old native of Anahim Lake, B.C., for a few months.

"My first impression was:’Whoa, this kid’s going to be great, he’s head and shoulders above where I was at 17,’ " recalled Kolzig, who came to the net by chance at age 10, earning a shutout in his first game.

"Then there’s his demeanour. To me, that is what’s going to make Carey very successful, especially in Montreal. He doesn’t get too high or too low."

Kolzig worked on Price’s fundamentals, teaching him that no matter his quickness or glove skill, it’s the basics around which a goalie builds his game.

The two drilled footwork; Price was strong moving one way through the crease, but a little off balance the other.

"Even with the talent and the future he has, Carey showed me a great deal of respect," Kolzig said, praising the mentoring of Price’s father, Jerry, a former minor-pro goalie and 1978 Philadelphia Flyers draft pick.

"Mostly I was there as his big brother and to help him keep any kind of slump from lasting. I gave him some mental tools he could use so that if he ever got into a funk, he could get out of it more quickly.

"There are so many goaltenders who, on talent and skill level, should be here ahead of me. I worked on the mental side of it, and having that belief in yourself makes a world of difference. The only way you’ll succeed is with what you have between the ears."

The Americans considered trading Price before this season, realizing the goalie’s value in his final season of junior eligibility as his team headed into what seemed to be a rebuilding year.

But GM and Western Hockey League executive-of-the-year Bob Tory engineered a few shrewd deals and the Americans enjoyed a club-record season, finishing at 47-23-1-1.

Price, 30-13-1 with three shutouts and a save percentage of .917, last week was named top goalie in the WHL’s Western Conference for 2006-07, and now has his team in a first-round playoff series against Seattle.

The Americans went into last night’s late game trailing the Thunderbirds 1-0 in their best-of-seven division semi-final, spending 18 minutes shorthanded in losing Friday’s opener 2-0. Price allowed one goal on 30 shots, the second finding an empty net.

Kolzig keenly follows the team online and hopes they’re still in action when he goes west to join them in a few weeks.

The franchise was on thin ice in 2005 when then-co-owners Brian Burke and Glen Sather announced plans to move it to Chilliwack, B.C. That was shot down by league governors, though the two were granted an expansion team in Chilliwack.

Kolzig, with Dallas Stars friend and former Americans teammate Stu Barnes, stepped in. Both have offseason homes in the area and they arrived as badly needed local ownership, co-presidents with a commitment to the club’s long-term future.

GM Tory and Dennis Loman complete the ownership group.

"It’s been great, but I haven’t been able to be there and be involved. That’s for when my career is done," said Kolzig, who figures he’ll play until he’s 40.

"I’ll be more hands-on, learning the business, finding a way to market and improve the junior game and attending meetings."

On the buses again?

"No," he said, laughing, "scouting peewee games in Manitoba doesn’t interest me."

But Kolzig will watch the progress of Carey Price with a sharp eye, aware that he might see his junior-team superstar at the opposite end of an NHL rink before his own career is done.

"I’m amazed I made it through one NHL game, my goal when I was drafted," he said, now two games shy of 700. "But I’ve always believed in myself, and that will be my advice to Carey.

"I’ll tell him, ‘Don’t believe everything you hear, good or bad. You’re not always as good as people say you are, and you’re never as bad. Just believe in yourself, and draw on what you’ve done.’

"Carey will have some experiences that he probably won’t like, but they’ll make him stronger as a person and a goaltender. He should enjoy the game and absorb the history, especially in Montreal. This is an unbelievable city."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Vincent Lecavalier Question

It is a dilema facing more than one NHL organization at the moment. A matter of priority with little or no room for error.

With rising salary caps an odd reality in the post lockout NHL, several teams are facing budgetary restraints. In truth, the new cap limits envisioned for the 2007-08 season, estimated at $48 million, exceed what certain teams were paying out prior to the lockout.

It is in fact what more than the majority were spending in 2004.

I suggest the word "odd" because the lockout was supposed to have bridged the large gap between the "have's" and "have not's" of the leagues team fiscal monetary means.

Wasn't that the purpose of the lockout in the first place?

Irregardless, several teams have been tossing out dollars just as foolishly as before the so-called "new NHL" was born. The upcoming free agency season, next July 1st, will be a very tell-tale day as to where many organizations stand financially.

One team throwing all its eggs in one basket are the Tampa Bay Lightening.

Huge contracts awarded to such stars as Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Vincent Lecavalier have placed the team in a bind as to where it's future can go. With almost half the team's payroll taken up by three star players, it has given the Lightening little manoeverability in terms of negotiating raises to other worthy players. If they fail to properly re-evalute the vision of their teams goals, mistakes could become costly in a bubble hocket market.

The truth is that the Lightening's budget will not see them equal the NHL's salary cap next season. This losing proposition has led to rumblings that Tampa GM Jay Feaster will need to unload one of his big three contracts.

After the Lightening's Stanley Cup win in 2004, Feaster was somewhat cornered in offering all three top dollar. As St.Louis, Richards, and Lecavalier were all on the brink of unrestricted free agency, he could not afford to lose either of the three for nothing.

He signed all three to big dollar deals knowing full well it could compromise the Lightening's future.

Now, nearing July 1, 2007, that day is upon Feaster.

Which asset of the three will he chose to lose?

Richards, the most complete player of the three, has the most dollars attached to his contract. It is doubtful that any team that has the cap room to afford him, sees him as being as valuable to them. He is also the least point producing of the three.

St.Louis, former Art Ross and Hart trophy winner, is the eldest of the group. He endured a questionable season between 2004 and his resurgence this season. He has never produced prior to arriving with Tampa, being given the ice team he now enjoys. Similar productiveness on a contender may be doubtful.

Lacavalier, by the time you've read this, may have just reached his first 50 goal season. His contract, more than the other two Lightening stars, was a deal made for the future. It seemed quite a bit much at the time but now seems to equal his output.

Perversly, Lacavalier has become Tampa's most tradeable commodity in this crucial financial paradox.

Feaster is a smart and astute GM. He realizes the constraints of dealing either of the three and realizes his biggest return lies with dealing Lacavalier. While he surely doesn't relish the corner he has painted himself into, he will understand how to best get himself out of it.

It all begins with Lecavalier's dream team - the Montreal Canadiens.

For those who may not know this, Lecavalier wore his same number 4, when he played the Habs legendary Jean Beliveau in the film about "The Rocket". (NHL'ers Pascal Dupuis and Sean Avery also werein on the roles.)

Nevermind the irony of Lacavalier as Beliveau in a movie on Maurice Richard, there are several facts that add up to Feaster wanting to speak with the Canadiens first.

To begin with, the Habs need a bona-fide top line center - at any salary within reason. No one in Montreal would balk at Lecavalier's pricetag coming off a 50 goal season.
Secondly, the Canadiens have the prospects to suit the Lightening's needs for the future, at any position required.
On top of that, the Canadiens may lose an UFA of their own in the off-season, namely Sheldon Souray (though he's admitted he hopes the team can retain him), and Andrei Markov, who has expressed more than once, a desire to remain in Montreal.

Should the Canadiens suffer the fate of losing one or both, the aquiring of Lecavalier would prompt the media focus away from such losses in a big time way. No need to explain the significance of french Canadiens allegiances here.

On the eventuality that Montreal is not interested in the Lecavalier contract, the Tampa GM will still begin with talking with Montreal to raise the bar in trade talks.

The Canadiens have $26 million to spend as they see fit next summer - with resignings in the equation. Expect the Montreal media to be on the Lecavalier scenario until the team is capped out within reason.

For Lecavalier and the Montreal Canadiens, it should be an interesting summer!

Crosby Gatorade "Breakaway" Ad Apes Old Woody Allen Movie Vignette

Gatorade has just rolled out the latest promo ad featuring Penguin's star Sidney Crosby.

The clip, titled "Breakaway", is a quite a high tech undertaking, and looks at what is going on in Sid the Kid's brain as he is about to go one on one on a Carolina Hurricanes goalie.
The sports beveredge company could not have used Crosby's last goal scored on the Canadiens David Aebischer - you know that 1 against for 4 embarrassment - as the phenom hardly needed to employ any brain power to score it.

In this clip, Crosby is rarely featured except for split second glances of the ice surface, as seen through his eyes. As he dashes and dekes opponants on his way to the goal, the inner workings of his brain are highlighted through a series of actions performed by working crews resembling an air traffic control room and a steel mill drilling operation. The crews interact, mentally and physically, like the neurons and synapses firing the brain, to produce a result.

The one minute ad is highly ingenious, considering the multi skilled Crosby, but it is hardly original.

The scene is a direct descendant from a Woody Allen vignette from his 1972 movie, "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (* But Were Afraid To Ask)." That scene, featuring actor Burt Reynolds, was also about scoring, in a different way!

The Allen clip, also featured here below, involved the same crew to crew interaction, in conflict with the heart and mind in a moral equation. Instead of a goalie, the desired target is one attractive brunette.
Old time movies being what they are, it is doubtful that anyone under the age of 30 has seen it. I was quite surprised and impressed that You Tube actually has a clip of it. While the scene is shown in its entirety, one only needs a minute to observe the similarities between it and the Crosby ad.

Allen's movie explored the myths and innuendo's of sex, in an almost documentary style, though several vignettes that have a goal of undoing the myths. It has actually been used in certain cases as a sex-ed film. While hilariously funny, it is not out of place in that context.

Heck, I'd even recommend it to Sidney!

The Return Of Cristobal Huet

There's good news on the Cristobal Huet injury front according the Canadiens official website. While most reports have had him gone until the post season, there had been some rumblings that a possible return was sooner. My understanding was that once the website commented on the goalie's progress, a return could be envisioned.

No date has been suggested as yet, but it it is inconceivable to suggest that rookie Jaroslav Halak would be asked to play all seven remaining games. It's almost as inconceivable to think coach carbonneau will be giving David Aeboscher the go ahead to start anytime soon. The Canadiens will run with Halak until Huet's return.

Here's what the Habs official site had to say on Huet:

"With opponents already having their hands full contending with rookie sensation Jaroslav Halak, the news might get worse for the opposition with All-Star Cristobal Huet inching closer to a return to the Habs' crease.

With the team coming off sweeping a home-and-home series against the Bruins and Huet taking part in his first full practice with his teammates Friday morning, there were no shortage of smiles on the ice at the Bell Centre.

"It feels great to be back practicing with the guys and getting to face shots that are a little more dangerous than Rollie’s," said Huet with a smile in reference to all the time he’s spent skating with goaltending coach Roland Melanson of late. "I’m still not at 100% yet. I haven’t felt any discomfort, even if the muscles in that area are a bit tired. It’s important for me to get back in the swing of things before being ready to compete once I’m back to 100%."

Those anxiously awaiting a precise return date for Huet are not alone.

"We still haven’t really set a timetable for when I’ll be back. We’re taking this day-by-day," explained Huet. "All I really know is that I’m not playing Saturday night and we’ll see how my leg responds to the next couple of practices."

Huet isn’t the only one surveying his progress, these days.

"He looked good to me out there," said Steve Begin. "He really worked his tail off in the gym to be able to come back as soon as possible. We’re all thrilled to see him back on the ice with us and looking forward to having him in the lineup."

Other thoughts:

With Thursday's 6-3 win over the Bruins, during which the Habs scored four goals in the third period, the Canadiens have now collected 24 points (10W-4OTL) in third period comebacks this season. Once again they did it with the help of their young guns. Tomas Plekanec, Christopher Higgins, Maxim Lapierre and Jaroslav Halak were excellent yet again for Montreal, with Lapierre's goal proving to be the winner. Andrei Kostisyn also had an assist in Plekanec's goal near the end of the second period that swung momentum in Montreal's favour.

Christopher Higgins said there's no secret to the success that he and linemate Tomas Plekanec are having down the stretch in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"It's all about work; if we're not working, we're not having success," Higgins said after he and Plekanec scored second effort goals to help the Habs beat the Boston Bruins 6-3 last night.

While most people enjoy these types of games, I hesitate greatly to call them character wins. As I've said before, character shows up at the start of the games, not just in the third period out of desperation. Luckily they fell behind to Boston and not the Sabres or Rangers or it would have been game over!

Pat Hickey alluded to this about Dave Lewis' mustache in his column and I must say ditto!

Some guys look great with a moustache, others don't. I shaved mine off 6 years back and have never missed it. I look at old pictures of myself, kind of hanging onto that 70's cookie duster, and I wince!

The 'staches suited guys such as Magnum P.I., Eddie Shack and Lanny MacDonald, to name a few. Someone ought to tell Bruins coach Dave Lewis his just makes him look like a Hitler subserviant.

Much talk about Carey Price's great regular season with Tri-City of late.

Price's record with the Americans this season was 30-13-1, with a GAA of 2.45 and a .917 save percentage. The Canadiens may have intentions of staring his pro career in Hamilton, but his play at training camp may force them to think otherwise. Watching his play during the WJC, he reminded me oddly of Huet down the stretch last year, when he seemed to resemble of big wall of plywood facing the shooters. Like Huet, Price is at his best when square to the puck and shooter. He rarely compromises himself in situations of two on one breaks and his stand up style fits his size to perfection. I believe that much of the Canadiens work in grooming him is already accomplished.

If he is indeed ready for the bigs, it would be wise to place him there starting next season. A goaltender of his calibre needs the continuous growth that comes with playing behind defenseman of the same grade. Having him ply his trade with lesser talents at the AHL level is a risk to his developement.

A beauty of a site all Habs fans must witness is Canadiens Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette has been featuring some awesome team photo shots from the 1950's five in a row champions online, and they are something to see.

The site has an easy membership sign up at no cost and features hundreds of collectibles that many folks have never seen. I'll be doing a feature on it myself soon enough, but here's a little sneak peak.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who Were These Masked Men?

In 98 years of history, the Montreal Canadiens have had 74 goaltenders play for the team since 1909. The group as a whole, tell a tale almost as storied as hockey itself.

Following their names and legends back in time, you can practically watch the evolution of the position grow into what it is today.

Time has forgotten many of these masked men, some of whom played but a game or even one period.

Time has forgotten many of these masked men, some of whom played but a game or even one period.

The Canadiens goaltenders over time include the man who name is lent to a trophy honouring the games best each season. Then there's that goalie who liked to knit between periods and who invented and helped perfect the goalie mask. One other had a terrible fear of flying that forced him to retire more than once. Several were honest to goodness comedians, who spoke to their goalposts but never to teammates before games.

Many of these legends went on to become the backbones of other team after the initial expansion in 1967. Some won Stanley Cups while other couldn't take the heat of the spotlight and crumbled.

In has often been said that the two toughest jobs in hockey are being the Canadiens coach and being their goalie.

I can understand that - If I could be either Guy Carbonneau or David Aebischer right now, I'd choose to be the puck instead!

Note - This post will be evolving through time - I've lots to add to it. I wanted to get this up, as I was speaking of it in an earlier blog. Enjoy the list - details will follow on a repost during the coming weekend.)

74-Jaroslav Halak 2006-07
73-David Aebischer 2005-07
72-Cristobal Huet 2005-07
71-Yann Danis 2005-2006
70-Olivier Michaud 2001-02
69-Stephane Fiset 2001-02
68-Eric Fichaud 2000-01
67-Mathieu Garon 2000-04
66-Jeff Hackett 1998- 2003
65-Andy Moog 1997-98
64-Tomas Vokoun 1996-97
63-Jose Theodore 1995-2006

62-Patrick Labrecque 1995-96
61-Jocelyn Thibault 1995-98
60-Pat Jablonski 1995-97
59-Les Kuntar 1993-94
58-Ron Tugnutt 1993-95
57-Roland Melanson 1991-92

56-Frederic Chabot 1990-99
55-Jean-Claude Bergeron 1990-91
54-Andre Racicot 1989-94
53-Randy Exelby 1988-89
52-Vincent Riendeau 1987-88
51-Brian Hayward 1986-90
50-Patrick Roy 1984-95

49-Doug Soetaert 1984-86
48-Steve Penney 1983-86
47-Mark Holden 1981-84
46-Rick Wamsley 1980-84
45-Denis Herron 1979-82
44-Richard Sevigny 1979-84
43-Michel Larocque 1974-81
42-Wayne Thomas 1972-74
41-Michel Plasse 1972-74
40-Denis DeJordy 1971-72
39-Ken Dryden 1971-79

38-Phil Myre 1969-72
37-Tony Esposito 1968-69
36-Gary Bauman 1966-67
35-Rogatien Vachon 1966-72

34-Gump Worsley 1963-70
33-Ernie Wakely 1962-69
32-Cesare Maniago 1962-63
31-Claude Cyr 1958-59
30-Claude Pronovost 1958-59
29-Don Aiken 1957-58
28-Len Broderick 1957-58
27-Bob Perrault 1955-56
26-Andre Binette 1954-55
25-Claude Evans 1954-55
24-Charlie Hodge 1954-67

23-Hal Murphy 1952-53
22-Jacques Plante 1952-63
21-Gerry McNeil 1947-57
20-Bill Durnan 1943-50

19-Paul Bibeault 1940-43
18-Bert Gardner 1940-42
17-Charlie Sands*** 1939-40
16-Mike Karakas 1939-40
15-Claude Bourque 1938-40
14-Paul Gauthier 1937-38
13-Abbie Cox 1935-36
12-Wilf Cude 1933-41

11-Mickey Murray 1929-30
10-Roy Worters 1929-30
9-George Hainsworth 1926-33

8-Herb Rheaume 1926-27
7-Frenchy Lacroix 1926-27
6-Sprague Cleghorn** 1921-22
5-Ernie Dubeau* 1913-14*
4-Georges Vezina 1910-26

3-Teddy Groulx 1909-10
2-Joseph Cattarinich 1909-10
1-M. Larochelle 1909-10

*Dubeau was a forward who subbed for Vezina while injured for two minutes. Vezina Rarely missed a game in his 16 seasons with the Canadiens.

** Cleghorn replaced Georges Vezina for a two minute penalty on Febuary 1,1922, in a 4-2 loss to Ottawa Senators.

*** Charlie Sands was not a goalie, he was a forward who subbed for the injured Wilf Cude in the 1939-40 season. That year was probably the worst in Canadiens history, and with a mere1,500 fans in the seats, the team was on the verge of folding. Dick Irvin, whose father took over as Canadiens coach the following season, tells it like this, in his book, "The Habs".

"Perhaps the lowest point in a season full of lows came in Chicago, on Febuary 22. With five minutes to play and the Blackhawks leading the Canadiens 5-1, Montreal goaltender Wilf Cude was hurt in a goal crease collision and had to leave the game. In those days teams carried only one goaltender. A Canadiens forward, Charlie Sands, volunteered to finish the game in the nets. The Blackhawks gleefully seized the opportunity and drilled the puck past Sands five times in the last five minutes. Final score, 10-1."

Not every goalie the Montreal Canadiens drafted would play for the team, or even the farm teams for that matter. Between 1963 and 2007, there are 40 goalies that I found throught the Amateur and Entry draft lists available online. I could not find much information on any signed goaltenders prior to 1969 online.

The listing below does not include goalies who've appeared in any games with the Habs, only those who didn't. If you click on the links of players selected between 1969 and 1984, you will see their junior pictures from draft day and their bios. Check out how stunned poor Ray martinyuk looks in 1970. From the 1985 on, I've used Hockey Database as the resource for information on their subsequent careers.

There are some famous names in the mix, a Hall Of Famer who never played in the NHL, a few coaches who were drafted by the Habs, and also one very well known hockey Dad.

Some of shots of young guys look like this famous goalie, so be sure to look around the linked sites for other cool shots.

1-Gary Doyle 1969 (RD5, 56 overall, Ottawa, OHA)
2-Ian Wilkie 1969 (RD7, 74 overall, Edmonton WCHL)
3-Ray Martinyuk 1970 (RD1, 5 overall, Flin Flon, WCHL)
4-Cal Hammond 1970 (RD4, 45 overall, Flin Flon, WCHL)
5-Michel Deguise 1971 (RD2, 24 overall, Sorel, QMJHL)+
6-Dave Elenbaas 1972 (RD4, 62 overall, Cornell U.)
7-Yves Archambeault 1972 (RD7, 110 overall, St. Jerome)+
8-Graham Parsons 1972 (RD8, 126 overall, Red Deer AJHL)
9-Ed Humphries 1973 (RD3, 37 overall, Saskatoon, WCHL)
10-Cap Raeder 1973 (RD12, 167 overall, New Hamphire, ECAC)*
11-Carl Jackson 1975 (RD12, 198 overall, Pennsylvania, ECAC)
12-Maurice Barrette 1976 (RD5, 90 overall, Quebec, QMJHL)+
13-Bruce Horsch 1976 (RD9, 125 overall, Michigan Tech, WCHA)
14-Robert Holland 1977 (RD4, 64 overall, Montreal QMJHL)+
15-Barry Borrett 1977 RD9, 152 overall, Cornwall, QMJHL)+
16-Mark Holden 1977 (RD10, 160 overall, Brown, ECAC)
17-Carey Walker 1977 (RD12, 174 overall, New Westminster, WCHL)**
18-Jean Belisle 1977 (RD14, 179 overall, Chicoutimi, QMJHL)+
19-Bob Daly 1977 (RD14, 180 overall, Ottawa OMJHL)
20-Kevin Constantine 1978 (RD9, 174 overall, RPI, ECAC)***
21-Rick Wilson 1978 (RD20, 232 overall, St. Lawrence ECAC)
22-Greg Moffat 1979 (RD6, 121 overall, New Hampshire, ECAC)
23-Scott Robinson 1980 (RD10, 208 overall, Denver, WCHA)
24-Lars Ericksson 1981(RD2, 32 overall, Gavle, Sweden)
25-Dan Burrows 1981(RD10, 208 overall, Belleville, Ont Jr. B)
26-Vladislav Tretiak 1983 (RD7, 138 overall, Moskow CSKA, USSR)****

27-Troy Crosby 1984 (RD12, 240 overall, Verdun, QMJHL)*****
28-Roger Beedon 1985 (RD9, 184 overall, Sarnia, OPJHL)
29-Eric Bohemier 1986 (RD10, 204 overall, Hull QMJHL)
30-Peter Fish 1988 (#25 Supplemental Draft)
31-Marc Lamothe 1992 (RD4, 92 overall, Kingston OHL)
32-Trent Cavicchi 1992 (RD10, 236 overall, Dartmouth Midgets N.S.)
33-Brian Larochelle 1993 (RD10, 255 overall, Phillips-Exeter Academy N.H.)
34-Evan Lindsay 1999 (RD4, 107 overall, Prince Albert, WHL)
35-Vadim Tarasov 1999 (RD7, 197 overall, Novokuznetsk, Russia)
36-Joni Puurula 2000 (RD8, 243 overall, Hermes FinD1)
37-Christopher Heino-Lindberg 2003 (RD6, 177 overall, Hammarby, Sweden)
38-Loic Lacasse 2004 (RD6, 181 overall, Baie Comeau QMJHL)
39-Carey Price 2005 (RD1, 5 overall, Tr-City)
40-Cedric Desjardins 2006 (Free agent)
41-Michael Leighton 2007 (Waivers, Philadelphia)

+ Archambeault, Deguise, Barrette, Belise, Holland and Borrett were all QMJHL goalie. Borrett played for the hometown Cornwall Royals, and the other 5 others played here in town against them. Deguise Barrette and Holland were all excellent prospects who in felt should have made it to the NHL given the right circumstances.

* Cap Raeder became the assistant coach to Barry Melrose in 1993 when the L.A. Kings faced the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals. Melrose was also a Habs draft pick.

** Carey Walker is the older brother of former Expo and MLB great Larry Walker.

*** Kevin Constantine became coach of the San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devils in the NHL.

**** Vladislav Tretiak wanted to join the Canadiens but was not permitted.

***** Troy Crosby is the father of NHL star Sidney Crosby.