Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Hockey Night in Montreal

The National Hockey League playoffs can be a long and drawn out affair. Each series can last seven games, with the winner of the seventh game advancing to the next round.
This is not something taken lightly by fans of the Montreal Canadiens. Game Seven will be played Wednesday night, and every Hab fan in existence will be watching, listening, cheering for the beloved “Bleu, Blanc et Rouge”.
The Canadiens can thank a Slovakian goaltender for their survival. They are in tough against the powerful Washington Capitals, and looked completely outclassed at times in this series.
Coach Jacques Martin made a few critical decisions before Monday night’s game, and the result was a 3-1 win for the Canadiens.
First of all, he decided to start a young rookie who had never played in any Stanley Cup playoff games. P. K. Subban is a familiar figure to local hockey fans, as he played his entire Canadian Hockey League career for the Belleville Bulls. (At one point in his commentary, analyst Pierre McGuire gave credit to Bull’s coach George Burnett for aiding in Subban’s development.)
Subban simply wowed the Hab fans. He showed no fear, no hesitation in his play. He jumped into the fray with all the confidence in the world, and assisted on one of the Hab markers. His skating ability was described as “World Class”, and he handled the puck well. He played as if he belonged at that level, and there is a good chance he may never dress in a minor league uniform again.
But it was the play of Jaroslav Halak that put the game in the victory column for the Canadiens. Time after time, he plucked the puck out of the air with his trapper, often with a touch of embellishment. His play was reminiscent of the play of Patrick Roy, indeed high praise. Comparisons could also be made to Ken Dryden, who lifted the Habs to the Stanley Cup in his early days in Montreal. For Halak, all of that remains to be seen.
There have been several local heroes on the ice in this year’s edition of the Cup playoffs. Some have now departed, others are still in the fray. Belleville’s Brad Richardson played well in a losing cause to Vancouver. Richardson’s move from Colorado to Los Angeles has worked out well for him. Andrew Raycroft has the best seat in the house as a Canuck, backing up Roberto Luongo; however, at any given moment he could be thrust into the fray if coach Vigneault thinks a change of keepers might inspire his team.
Daniel Cleary has put together another outstanding season with the Detroit Red Wings. He has been joined by another former Bull for the playoff run-Jan Mursak.
Jason Spezza, Jon Cheechoo, and former Wellington Duke Derek Smith skated with the Senators this season. David Clarkson, also a former Belleville Bull, again received accolades for his gritty play in New Jersey. Cody McCormick has surfaced again for the Buffalo Sabres, and has given them some much-needed toughness.

Although it has become a difficult chore in all professional sports, repeating as Stanley Cup champions is at the top of Matt Cooke’s list. He continues to play his role with the Penguins perfectly, always in everyone’s face. But he has also supplied some much needed scoring for the Pens. He does trail Sidney Crosby in that category.
Less than three weeks ago, I watched the conclusion of a Habs game in Montreal. They trailed by a goal, and, for the last two minutes, they booed their team mercilessly. They are an impatient lot, expecting nothing less than a repeat of the glory days of yesteryear. Sorry, mes amis, it just doesn’t work that way.
And I do hope the Hab fans forget that dumb chant of “Ole, ole, ole, ole” over the summer. It belongs solely in soccer stadia.
Nothing like a late April snow to bring out the worst in everyone! Drop the gloves!

James Hurst
27 April 2010

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