Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ceremonies On The Rise

I think other teams will dread playing in Montreal even a little bit more this season. From the looks of things, most games will be preceded by a ceremony of some kind.

Yesterday, the Canadiens revealed their plans for the next 15 months leading up to their 100th birthday. By and large, there was nothing unexpected – no outdoor games, no fan participatory events. 90% of goings on will be pre-game material.

Looking at the list of events, the highlights have to be:
  1. The MSO concert and opening of the Canadiens Hall of Fame
  2. Patrick Roy's sweater retirement
  3. The inauguration of the community outdoor rink programme
Beyond those events, I think it will certainly be very special to watch the Canadiens to play in different sweaters here and there and to learn more about the teams that wore those now-defunct editions of the Sainte-Flanelle.

But, in the same vein as my opinion piece on the Victoria Cup participation, I think the Habs have stopped a bit short on their list here. I'll tell you why.

First of all, over the past years, the Canadiens have made ceremony and presentations for just about everything imaginable. Olympians get honoured, I've been at games honouring Jacques Villneuve, Andre Dawson, and even the vilified GM Rejean Houle (after the GM bit, if you can imagine). Even last year, they honoured rivalries like that with the Red Wings. as a result of all this, it is my belief that others (based on my own example) may be desensitized to the merits of the ceremony. Just a thought.

Secondly, fans on TV (where you would find the vast majority) are most often deprived of the chance to see any of the ceremony as it happens and have to catch it in clips on TSN or RDS later. RDS in particular generally seem to prefer the chance to speak for the 80th hour of that week about line combinations, breakfast choices or contrived goalie controversies. So, most fans will not be privy to any of these ceremonies anyway (barring a dramatic change of heart from RDS, that is). Also, take into account that some people must be rushing to eat or clear up dinner (as I do) and will miss it even if it is shown.

Basically, my opinion is that the team should unveil another series of events that foster public (or at least fans at large) involvement, even participation. The Victoria Cup may not be participatory, but it would give the fans a thrill (at least one of us, anyway) to have another meaningful prize to shoot for. Other possibilities off the top of my head could be things like:
  • A testimonial game (former and Canadiens) but at a large outdoor venue – a bit like the Heritage Classic
  • A tour of small towns for next exhibition schedule – maybe the prominent hometowns of former greats (Thurso, anyone?)
  • Something special against the Ottawa Senators, who it could be argued have the oldest name in the history of the NHA/NHL
  • Games against thee top teams from the original opponents from 1909 (Montreal B and C teams?, Ottawa, Renfrew, Cobalt, Halleybury)
  • Dedicate a new trophy for something like the best amateur team in Montreal or Quebec – it could be a tournament or a challenge Cup
  • Plaques for important sites (Provigo on Mont-Royal?)
I could go on. Basically, my reaction here should not be construed as negative. I merely expected to be surprised by some of the events being announced. Quite simply, I wasn't.

I think particularly that the Habs should be honouring the earliest seasons of their history, which many fans (including myself up until I started writing more seriously) know nothing about. Honouring the original six is interesting and fine. But let's be honest, it has been done. What's more, though we know why the Canadiens loved the Original 6 era (Cups galore), it's strange to keep focusing again and again on an era that constitutes less than a third of a team's total history – I mean the Penguins have been in the league more than 40 years now guys...

Not to fret though, there's still plenty of time to surprise us all – I expect they will somehow. And if there's one thing the Canadiens have shown a penchant for, it is creating the most meaningful moments and ceremonies with no lead time – I'm thinking particularly of the reception they afforded Saku Koivu upon his return.

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