Rosalynn Carter, wife of the former President of the United States Jimmy Carter, once said: “You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” Little did she know that those words would one day apply perfectly to the Montreal Canadiens.
PENTICTON, BC. — For too many years already, the Canadiens have had a certain level of confidence in their abilities, but they simply weren’t tough enough to follow through when confronted by bigger and tougher opposition. It appeared that the General Managers in place during that period forgot the ingredients to make a successful team.
When baking a cake, one has to follow the recipe and put all ingredients in the right proportion. Replacing baking powder with sugar will make for a very sweet cake, but it won’t rise. The same goes for a hockey team. Over the past 15 years, the Habs have had plenty of danglers but very few bangers to support them. True that they have also lacked top end talent during that period, but with nobody to ensure that those skilled players can do their job without fear of being pushed and intimidated by bigger, tougher teams, they simply couldn’t play to their full potential.
It was laughable to hear Wayne Gretzky talk against fighting a few years ago when he was allowed to do what he did on the ice because of guys like Dave Semenko and Mary McSorley. As a matter of fact, it’s Gretzky himself who asked Bruce McNall, then owner of the LA Kings, to sign McSorley with the Kings.
It was just as mind boggling to see Réjean Houle, followed by the Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau tandem, refusing to address this need on the Habs, years after enjoying a very successful career with the likes of Gilles Lupien, Chris Nilan, Mario Tremblay, Doug Risebrough, Lyle Odelein and John Kordic protecting them and allowing them to focus on their own game. Selective memory? Of course, Gainey eventually signed Georges Laraque who, for whatever reason, could not or would not do that job at that stage in his career.
It’s no secret that the Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin duo doesn’t like the rough stuff and they’ve made it clear in more than one occasion. It’s the same duo who had some great regular seasons teams in Ottawa only to underachieve in the playoffs by being intimidated by a much tougher Maple Leafs’ team. And it’s the same duo who suffered the same fate against the Flyers and the Bruins, and had it not been for a hot goaltender, they would have been out in the first round each year in Montreal.
There is no denying that some people will use the Detroit Red Wings as a crutch to downplay the need for tough guys, but who did Joey Kocur, Darren McCarty, Stu Grimson, Bob Probert and Martin Lapointe play for? The fact remains that a vast majority of successful teams have a mix of skills, offense, defense, grit, goaltending and yes, toughness.
The acquisition of Brad Staubitz and Ryan White’s return from injury were two key components, especially with Travis Moen falling to injuries himself. White had this to say, “It’s definitely better when you have a lot of guys going with you. Staubitz was a great acquisition and he’s given our team some instant respect. It hasn’t been easy to play against us the last 10, 12 games. We definitely had to get bigger.”
When someone recently asked David Desharnais if there was any truth that players play bigger with a tough guy in the line-up, here’s what he replied, “Of course, he said without hesitation. You know that he’ll protect you if someone touches you, if there’s a scrum. You play bigger when that happens. I’m 6’8″ when Ryan White is there.”
“We want to be more of a team on the ice. I think it starts with the scrums. We see it; every time there’s some pushing and shoving, everyone gets involved, not just one guy. And when you have guys who can do that work, it makes a huge difference, because we don’t have to deal with it.”
Here’s head coach Randy Cunneyworth’s take on the topic: “Nobody will admit it openly, but it makes a team more cohesive when you have the element that players can back up certain actions on the ice. The other team knows. Players of that nature can even out things or kind of not allow things of that nature to go on. It makes everybody a little more physical, a little braver to some extent. . . . It’s more about a team toughness. One guy, two guys can’t go out there and kind of present that on their own, it has to be everybody.”
Young star defenseman P.K. Subban was pretty direct with his comments saying, “Those guys are warriors and they will stand up for anybody. It gives you a lot of confidence that some guy is going to have your back. I was really happy to see from the bench that when there was a scrum or our goalie got bumped, guys were right in there.”
“It’s good for hockey. It’s not ballet, it’s a tough sport.”
And Carey Price has noticed that he’s not getting pushed around as much anymore: “It sure is different when guys stick for one another. We play more aggressively, and it allows our guys to skate a bit more freely every game.”
Whether the team will be better off that way or not in the long run is definitely debatable, but the players certainly seem to appreciate it more, by the sounds of it. I know I do. Now let’s just hope that the next coach and GM won’t take a step backwards.
If only the NHL changed the instigator rule…
About the Author (Author Profile)Habsterix is a fictional character created for the sole purpose of the internet. Based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule, his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement.
Sites That Link to this Post
- GameDay: Habs vs Capitals Lineups, Damien’s Warning | All Habs | March 31, 2012