Monday, January 02, 2012


Happy New Year-2012!

From 2005 to 2008, a couple of Toronto kids skated around the ice in North Belleville at the Sports Centre to celebrate New Year’s Day. The Bulls have traditionally used the afternoon to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
Shawn Matthias and P. K. Subban were teammates on those very successful Bulls’ squads. Nowadays, the tables have turned slightly, and they have become arch rivals.
PK began his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, played at a couple of games with the parent squad, and spent the rest of the 2009-2010 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
Matthias got to skate with the Florida Panthers when he was called up during the 2007-2008 season. He completed his junior career with the Bulls that season. The following year was divided between the Panthers and the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
Both former Bulls have played 38 games this season. Subban has three goals and thirteen assists for sixteen points, whereas Matthias has seven goals and eight assists. Naturally their positions help dictate the point output, with Subban on defense, less is expected. On the other hand, Subban logs far more ice time than does Matthias.
Both the Habs and the Panthers limped into their New Year’s Eve tilt rather desperate. The Habs had the additional challenge of trying to adjust to a coaching change. Randy Cunneyworth was recently invited to stand behind the Canadiens bench, at least on a short-term basis. There is no question that he has a fine hockey mind. The doubters simply point out one glaring void in Cunneyworth’s resume: he does not communicate well in French.
That has reared its ugly head on many occasions in the sporting world in Quebec, but with greatest importance with the Habs. I do not believe it is an insurmountable situation. But it is one that garners a lot of press and conversation in the province. No matter that more players come from European nations than French-speaking areas. It is deemed to be a critical skill that the coach be able to communicate with the fans and the press in French, and at this time, that whole scenario is a distraction to the team.
No matter. When the puck was dropped at centre ice, it was “Game On”. Close to twenty thousand fans were buckled into their seats, ready for take-off. The Habs struck first on a wicked shot from the wing by Travis Moen, a cannonating drive, reminiscent of a young Lafleur or a young Cournoyea. The fans in the red, white, and blue sweaters outnumbered the Panther fans at the Bank Atlantic Centre, and they staked their presence throughout the evening with their “Go Habs Go”.
Tomas Fleischmann tallied for the Panthers in the second period to knot the game at a goal apiece, heading into the third period. Then, early in the third period, Matthias stole the puck from Lars Eller, wheeled into the Canadiens zone, and fired a shot at Carey Price. It did not have a lot of mustard on it, nor was Price screened. It simply eluded him, and found the back of the net.
Fleischmann netted an empty net goal for the Panthers which should have sealed the win; however, the Habs stormed down the ice with less than a minute remaining and narrowed the margin to 3-2. They also flew into the Florida zone with an extra attacker in the dying seconds of the game, to no avail. Close, but no cigar.
In the area designated for family and friends in the bowels of the arena, Subban was surrounded with well-wishers. Other players quietly signed a few autographs for their fans. Subban was reminded to get on the bus several times, with the threat of a fine. Slightly reminiscent of the days in Toronto when Bobby Hull held up the team to take care of the faithful. Times have changed in that regard.
Matthias was sitting quietly at his stall when I caught up to him. During our conversation, General manager Dale Tallon came by and gave him a “fist bump”. No words, but a look that said “Great job”. Matthias had been selected as the second star of the game. I asked Shawn about the effect the goal had on his game. “It is really exciting to score, especially in a close game.” I noted that he seemed to pick up the pace at that point in time. “No question about it. There’s a little more jump in your step, you hit a little harder.” He asked me to convey best wishes to all of his friends in the Quinte areas did Subban.
The game ended at 10:30pm. The temperature outside was twenty degrees Celsius. Enough said.
James Hurst
January 2, 2012

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