For those who grew up in my generation; those who never saw the Rocket; never saw Le Gros Bill; never saw the dynasty of the 70s and the multitude of hall of famers who graced the Forum ice; we only ever had one true superstar: Patrick Roy.
It has been almost 20 years since that infamous day versus the Detroit Red Wings. When Roy raised his hands to mock cheers from the crowd; he may as well have been guiding a plane to land and ship him to Colorado. In the process numerous fans, young and old, had their hearts torn out in a confusing and sudden fashion. Specifically younger fans who weren’t yet aware that their heroes were actually just like normal people; prone to the same issues and feelings that everyone else goes through. Patrick Roy was my idol growing up; my childhood room was adorned with his posters and jerseys. The number 33 became my favorite number. As was the case with so many young boys growing up in Quebec at that time – I wanted to be the goalie in every pick up game. So you can imagine how devastated I was when, he not only got traded, but essentially went through a messy break up with the Canadiens. Now I was a bit older when the trade happened; in my mid teens. At this stage in my life I had been taking in a heavy diet of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and any other alternative rock band that emerged in the early 90s. I was overly cynical, rebellious and probably wore way too much plaid (I definitely did). I was also not as naive as some of the younger fans. I had already come to the realization that while Roy was a great hockey player, he probably wasn’t a great guy. That’s probably unfair – more likely I should say I realized he was just a regular person. I was an avid hockey fan and along with all the depressing grunge music, I also absorbed every morsel of knowledge I could get on the game of hockey and my beloved Habs. Still…I was sad to see Patrick go, more so because he had been my idol growing up, (even today, like a time capsule, my childhood bedroom still has one or two Roy posters left hanging on the wall) but realistically the relationship had run its course. Roy needed a change and some new perspective. Montreal needed a new direction after a complete overhaul of the front office. So while no one in the city was really happy that Roy had to go, it was probably necessary. I assumed that even though we may struggle for a few years, it would only be a matter of time before the next great superstar emerges to lead the Canadiens de Montreal, the most storied franchise in the NHL, to a new era of success and Stanley Cups.
Now I know the obvious thing to say here is something like “Needless to say, that did not happen” or “Boy, was I wrong” or “Remember that time I said Blackberry would bounce back versus Apple, well I was still more right about that than the Habs getting another superstar post Roy.” But let’s take a look at this more closely. Realistically, we had one player who had a great shot at becoming a superstar in the mid to late 90s. A player that more than a few people have forgotten about. Saku Koivu is beloved in this city for his heroic return from cancer, his tireless work ethic and clutch play. We easily forget he finished 4th among rookies in scoring when he broke into the league. When he suffered his first major knee injury on December 7th, 1996 he was actually leading the NHL in scoring (13 goals, 25 assists – 38 points in 30 games) . No Habs player has come close to leading the league in scoring that late into the season since. After that injury Saku was never the same, and it seemed like whenever he’d gain momentum he’d suffer another serious injury. He was never able to make the leap.
Now we’ve had other players make some nice “superstar like” runs. Recchi comes to mind, Kovalev was the last Canadiens player to average a ppg for a season, but in terms of a true blue superstar…Patrick Roy was the last one we’ve had to celebrate in this city. Which brings me to the point of why I’m writing this blog entry.
On Saturday night the Habs trailed the Ottawa Senators 4-1 with 5 mins left in the game. While I stood at the bar in the Irish Embassy, I was upset – even disgusted. Far too often this season the Habs had given up points at home to inferior teams. So as I stood there, moping around like a kid who can’t seem to beat his asshole buddy at NHL ’94, something amazing happened. With Ottawa up 4-1, Alec Hemsky broke in on Carey Price. As he skated toward Price I resigned myself to a 5-1 deficit and a brutal, demoralizing loss. So as I chugged down the rest of my beer and sorrow, Price made the save. When I thought about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. While Carey Price has been a good goalie for a long time, he seems to have taken a mini leap this year simply by being more consistent. Leading into the Olympic break, following a 4 game slump in which the whole team played poorly, Price put up a GAA of 1.16 and a save percentage of .967 in his final 6 games. He followed that up by back stopping Canada to the gold medal, further cementing his ascension into super stardom.
Back to the Ottawa game, after a few minutes following that big save…something even more amazing happened.
Last year, PK Subban won the Norris trophy as the best defense man in the NHL. Despite that accolade he is still regarded as a loose cannon talent who has not yet earned the mantle of “one of the best defense man in the league”. Well on Saturday night versus Ottawa, Subban decided that enough was enough. He simply took over the game and completely owned it. All of a sudden it was as though he was the only guy on the ice who could touch the puck. Ottawa looked helpless as he darted in and out of the dangerous zones, finding open ice and creating space. It was like watching old tapes of the Flower as he grabs the puck and streaks up the wing. The crowd was built into a frenzy as the Habs got goals from Eller and Gionta to make it 4-3. When the Habs tied the game with 0.3 seconds left, some patrons – who had been at the bell centre a mere 10 minutes ago – celebrated as though we had won a playoff game. As I got mauled from behind by a much larger and drunker stranger, (seriously, my initial reaction was that I had gotten attacked by Chewbacca) I was overwhelmed by the achievement. Once I recovered (I had to locate my glasses on the floor of the bar, and have a shot of Jameson, but don’t worry I was okay), I realized that Subban had assisted on all 3 goals in that final 5 minutes to bring the Habs back. Think about that for a minute: he set up the 3 plays that resulted in the 3 goals in less than 5 mins to bring the Habs back. All this, during a pressure filled game where the Habs are fighting for the playoffs and playing a division rival. Only a superstar can pull that off, only a superstar can take over game so dominantly and put a team on their back like that.
So when I saw Patrick tonight coaching the Colorado Avalanche against the Habs, I cheered for him. Just as I had when he was the first athlete I looked up to, just like I did when he won the cup in ’93, like I did when he had his number retired. I also cheered because finally…finally Habs fans had found his replacements; we had finally found the next generation of Montreal Canadiens superstars to cheer for. While both Carey Price and PK Subban have a long way to go to reach the legend status of a Patrick Roy or any of the other Habs greats, I truly believe they have a good shot and at the very least PK Subban and Carey Price are legit superstars anyway you cut it.
For this generation of Habs fans, the poor few who can only remember one or two cups, that suffered through some of the leanest years and false hopes in franchise history…we’ll take it.
Go Habs go.