“There’s a pride to put on that jersey. If you’re not going to buy into what we’re trying to accomplish as a group, as a team, then you shouldn’t be on this team.” ~ Josh Gorges
PENTICTON, BC. – Have you ever noticed that at every level of hockey, there seems to be a misconception about who should be wearing a letter on his or her jersey on a team? Parents, coaches and players alike will often lean towards making the best player(s) on the team their captain and alternate-captains but yet, more often than not, the true leaders on a team aren’t necessarily the most talented. Although more for a political reason than anything else, the same can be said at the NHL level where teams want to make their best players feel needed so that they take ownership of the team.
You will recall that in an article published back in July, we discussed Brian Gionta and the Canadiens’ captaincy. Most fans judged that he should remain with the Habs as the team’s captain and felt like he was doing a good job in that role. But because he fulfils the expectations put upon him doesn’t mean that he can do it all himself. For that reason, the goal of this column is not to re-open the captaincy debate, but rather to highlight the support he is getting from a player whom, in spite of growing up some 4,400 kilometres away from Montreal, wears the CH logo on his chest as well as anyone ever has. His name is Josh Gorges.
We would be hard-pressed to find anyone around the Canadiens’ organization who wouldn’t think of the Habs’ defenseman as a leader. Whether it’s the way he conducts himself on the ice, through his competitiveness and his relentless effort and his will to compete, or off the ice by keeping away from controversy, to the way he deals with the media on a regular basis and not backing away from the truth, Gorges is the epitome of leadership on a sports’ team.
Growing up, he wasn’t fed with a silver spoon in his mouth and he had to prove himself over and over again in order to achieve his goal to play in the NHL. Undrafted, he was invited to the San Jose Sharks’ training camp on a tryout basis. He was offered a contract and after spending the better part of three seasons bouncing between the Sharks and their farm team, Josh was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on February 25, 2007 along with the Sharks’ first round pick (Max Pacioretty) in exchange for soon to be unrestricted free agent Craig Rivet.
Speaking about the trade, Gorges had this to say: “I was scared. You go from a small market team where you walk down the street, you pass 100 people and they wouldn’t know who you are, they wouldn’t care who you are, and you find out you’re traded to Montreal. As time went on you realize what a great city this is. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
While it took a while for him to get his chance to prove what he could do, the then 22-year-old defenseman made the most of his opportunities. His coaches and teammates cannot say enough about his dedication, his desire to do anything to help his team win, and to play through injuries. We’re talking about the guy who, in 2010, after taking a slap shot from Mike Green behind the helmet, didn’t miss a game! This is the same guy who had been playing on one knee since his junior days and who wouldn’t have had surgery had it not been for Habs’ management to force him to do so!
In a recent interview on l’Antichambre on RDS, Gorges talks about what it means to wear the Habs’ jersey, qualifying it as one of his best moments in his hockey career so far: “There’s something different about putting on a Montreal Canadiens jersey. It just felt different than putting on a San Jose jersey, no disrespect to the Sharks.” He’s not making excuses when trying to explain the struggles of the team last year and with his frank and direct ways, Gorges didn’t back down when asked about it and about the impact the arrival of new management and coaching staff will have on the group, “It started last year and even the year before. There were a lot of things going on that shouldn’t be going on, especially for the Montreal Canadiens. It will bring back that old culture of what it’s like to play for the Montreal Canadiens. There’s a pride that comes to play for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s not okay to finish in 15th place, it’s not accepted. We have to bring that winning attitude, that winning tradition back.”
In the same interview, Josh Gorges was humble when discussing the leadership on his team, talking about how many people feel that he should be captain. He was particularly direct and clear when it came to talking about Brian Gionta, “I think that we have a great captain on our team and I love playing with him and for him. Gionta has been a great role model for me. He’s probably one of the biggest influences on what it’s like to be a leader, how to handle yourself and conduct yourself, not so much on the ice but off the ice, understand that you’re in the public eye, keep yourself accountable. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
But how exactly does this leader feel about the upcoming season, assuming there is a season? Gorges feels like having a healthy Andrei Markov will go a long way and without using injuries as an excuse, having guys like Gionta and Moen healthy will help make this team much better than what it showed last year. Like many of his teammates have stated since this summer, he is also happy to see the arrival of guys like Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, guys who bring physicality, toughness, guys who want to compete. The Canadiens’ defenseman admits that a lot of times last year, those aspects were lacking on the Habs and that they didn’t respond when teams came at them with that style of play. Gorges is hoping that the new philosophy and a fresh identity, with GM Marc Bergevin and headcoach Michel Therrien in place, will bring back the pride in wearing the uniform and with it, a much needed winning attitude, the way it used to be and the way it should be for this franchise.
For his hard work and leadership, Josh Gorges was finally rewarded back in January with a long term deal which will see him getting $3.9 million a season for the next six years.
En français: Josh Gorges: Fierté et Leadership