As the NHL continues with their nonsense of wanting to play hockey this summer in spite of players being infected by COVID-19 and the United States far from having a handle on the pandemic, hockey fans have been chomping at the bit for quite some time now. Let’s face it: one of the year’s top times for trades, the NHL Draft, which was supposed to be held in Montreal, has been postponed. This time of year is usually exciting for fans as free agents would normally be talking to teams right now in preparation to signing new contracts by July first, which isn’t and won’t be the case. As there are more question marks than answers, fans are starving for NHL news and rumours and their frustration is growing. We can’t even make fun of the Toronto Maple Leafs for failing to live up to expectations once more!
So with this blog, I’ve decided to do what I like to do once in a while and go with a light topic, a somewhat interactive topic to make you, Habs’ fans and fans of other teams, think of scenarios. We all have our favourite team(s) and most who follow me are Canadiens’ fans but there are also a few fans of other NHL teams. As former Habs Doug Gilmour recently turned 57 years old, it got me thinking… I never could like him because in my books, he will always represent the Leafs. Sad, I know, but such is life.
But are there others? Well, I have to say yes. While I admire his pure skills, I was never an Alexei Kovalev fan. In order to understand this, one must know me and what I stand for. I like effort, constant effort, Brendan Gallagher-like effort. I’m a team guy and I strongly believe in teamwork, in doing what it takes for your team to win. While scoring goals and putting on a show is important, if you’re costing goals against by doing so, it’s counter-productive in my books. So Kovalev, while a great player, was not my type of player… and neither was P.K. Subban. It’s important to note that this is in no way putting these guys down as individuals or as hockey players. Both were awesome for Montreal, and their heart was definitely in the right place with the charity work that they did. But hockey-wise… not MY cup of tea.
You see, growing up in the 70’s and watching the greats of the Montreal Canadiens racking up Stanley Cups like they were playing in a league of their own, I got spoiled. I got to see players perform under the whip of the great Scotty Bowman, a very much demanding and even hated coach by his player, a coach who wouldn’t accept half-ass efforts at both ends of the ice. It was him who said in his book that saving a goal against might be even more important than scoring one, as if you let a goal in, you have to score two to win. So yes, while he was never close to being mentioned as a Selke Trophy candidate, even NHL offensive star player Guy Lafleur was working his butt off on the backcheck, due to Bowman’s iron fist.
It’s not secret to those who know me that my favourite players on the Habs back then were Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson and… Chris Nilan. One of my favourite lines as a trio was Doug Risebrough centering Yvon Lambert and Mario Tremblay, the “kids’ line”, who always created something while on the ice. Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau and Nilan were the epiphany of hard work, smart work, efficient work, and doing what it takes to help the team win.
Favourite opponents… WHAT?
It’s easy to pick players you like on the team you follow, right? It’s just as easy finding players you dislike on teams you don’t like too. Unless you’re a Bruins’ fan, who in their right mind likes Brad Marchand, particularly if you’re a Habs’ or a Canucks’ fan? But is it possible to like players from other teams? While more of a rarity, you bet it is. What about from teams that you absolutely despise? That’s tougher… much tougher. But it’s definitely possible. You see, prior to Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin acquiring him in THE trade, Shea Weber was my favourite player in the NHL. So imagine my thrill when the Habs acquired him!
Prior to him (although their career overlapped), Jarome Iginla was my very favourite player. I can’t care less about the Flames, and even less about the Avalanche, but Iggy was a special player. Grit coming out of his ying-yang, he could beat you in so many ways. He would score, set up a goal, block a shot, hit you through the boards or drop the gloves to defend a teammate. Like Weber, he was the ultimate leader and, just as importantly, he represented everything that Canada stands for: high class and exemplary work ethics.
What if I told you that one of my favourite players all-time was, for the longest time, the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs? WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY? Maybe… but Wendel Clark represented everything that I admired in a hockey player. To this day, he’s one of the top guys I loved as a hockey player. Blasphemy, some will say! But I would have taken Clark on my team in a heartbeat… well ahead of Kovalev. He was the living example of a guy who would stop to nothing to help his team… like Iginla.
Could I ever like a Boston Bruins? Yes, I liked Bobby Orr. But he isn’t my favourite all-time Bruins. I always admired a “local boy” from Montreal. Raymond Bourque was one of my favourite players in the NHL. What I would have given to have him wear the Red, White and Blue number 77…
But I am curious. Do you have a favourite player, or players on other teams that you like even more than players on your favourite team? Or is your loyalty to your team keeping you from liking any other player? You can comment below, on my Facebook page or, if you prefer, on my Twitter feed. Go Habs Go!