Monday, December 07, 2009

Putting History To Bed

My Habs Centennial

I had a great weekend.

Not least because I can stop searching through the archives for a while. Not least because it felt like we finally put the unruly child that was the Canadiens Centennial celebrations to bed.

December 4th was excellent

I have to say, watching the Canadiens game last Friday night was certainly the highlight of this whole year of celebration so far. The pre-game skate, the player presentations, Viggo presenting Le Demon Blond in French, Gordie Howe holding up Maurice's #9, the sweater retirements, Patrick Roy's bursting enthusiasm – they couldn't fail to eclipse even the previous high of Patrick Roy night.

The faces
One of the greatest thrills of the evening was to see all the old faces come back to visit. I think we all knew the ubiquitous Richer and Houle as well as all the greats would. But, honestly, did anyone expect to see Brent Gilchrist? Mats Naslund? Seeing those alums back for the first time in ages was brilliant. And to see their wide smiles as they recalled their times playing in front of us all, well that was brilliant too.

The current team
After the pre-game extravaganza, I was resigned that the game on this night would be a secondary attraction. However, in one of the most unexpected turns of events all evening, the current team showed once again, if not for the very first time, that they wanted to continue the tradition of effort, of innovation, of winning at least as long as they wore the sweaters.

Tobalev did the full recap, so I won't o over everything. But might I say that the performances of a few of the players on this night were nothing short of stunning.

We start with Carey Price, who following his discovering that working hard in practice is worthwhile, took a massive step in this game by going beyond solid angle play to simply willing a win from himself and ultimately his teammates. If there was a final lesson for Carey, it was this. Big games will come again and soon, but we can at least allay our fear that all the good work will crumble under the application of heat. Carey won the first true must-win game since the playoffs.

Words escape for the display that Cammalleri left on the ice. His hat trick a stunning display of timing and opportunism – something the Canadiens most recent 50-goal man in the audience must have recognised from the early 1990s. We've seen hat tricks and nights of dominance before, but seldom on such big occasions as this. The fact he didn't take a full night off the night before is certainly an endorsement for the hockey player Bob Gainey managed to sign this summer.

Others made sure to turn up as well – Metropolit looked ready to play 60 minutes, Gomez decided to showcase the passing only he possesses on the team, Marc-Andre Bergeron playing as if he's still playing for ice time (I guess he is), Sergei playing for the team, and more.

I have some experience with big occasions in sport myself. I know there are three types of athletes – those that find energy and inspiration from the bigger stage, those that simply offer what they always offer and those that buckle under the pressure of the whole affair. There's optimism to be taken from this Centennial night: it seems we have more vaulters than bucklers.

One of the things that made the experience of watching the event so special for me was being able to watch the game as a naive viewer.

Usually, I might have spent some time surfing various blogs and tracking twitter in the lead up to the game. Thanks to the World Cup draw and a last minute job, I had to forego the last 5 hours of ceaseless conversation about the celebrations. As such, I was positively giddy to spot Patrick Roy leading the Habs out the gate, genuinely surprised to watch M. Bouchard and Mr. Lach step to centre ice with the banners to watch them raised amidst proud tears. Coming into the event naive made it so much more special in the end – a throwback to another time almost.

Tobalev, who watched the whole thing unfolding on RDS and CBC informed me that is was not just so for him and those watching the pre-pre-game. Apparently Fracois Gagnon went for the scoop and gave away the ending – a sweater retirement kept secret from even Elmer Lach himself until Friday am.

The National Post cites 4 pm as the time when rumours began to pour onto the internet about the details of the ceremony which was set to begin a mere 2 hours later.

I understand the internet – heck, I'm a blogger – but the question that comes to mind:

What on earth for?

Why would someone like Francois Gagnon who just learned of a surprise that has been hush hush for months decide to spill the beans minutes before the wonderful surprise. Why did Robert Lefebvre (who I know values a good touching moment in history) set right to writing this article when he heard the news?

My experience was a salient reminder of the power of surprises, of pleasant surprises. It was a reminder that seeing Patrick Roy ("No it isn't it can't be. Quick. Quick come see this...") and the sweater retirements without prior knowledge was better than any rush I could have achieved by being the 47th person to read the tweet. For me it was the most satisfying end to a year of constant speculation, research and looking back. A reminder that I'm still as big a fan as I ever was.

Putting the history bed

Anyway, December 7th, 2009 now. As many have said it is now time to take a break from the history game.

I'll be happy to put the history on the backburner for a while as we turn our focus to real hockey games. But unlike the Jack Todds of the world, I don't think that means we must bury this forever. I think Habs history has had a long day and could use a rest, but this team still has stories for us to discover, still has lessons to offer the fans of today.

I hope we can reawaken the history again after a good solid rest.

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