It’s not at all surprising that the most storied franchise in the NHL would commence the truncated, 48-game, post-lockout hockey season riding a rising tide of fresh narratives. Life in Habs land, for better or worse, is never boring, and this year’s version of the Montreal Canadiens look like they won’t disappoint…
Chronically underperforming forward Scott Gomez is providing for one of the more scintillating sagas that are circulating. Gomez, who has been plagued by injuries, scored only two goals last season after going more than a calendar year without scoring. This year, with the permission of the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement, Habs’ brass have told Gomez he needn’t bother showing up. There likely won’t be any argument: he excels at not showing up.
Last season’s surprise star Erik Cole anchored the Canadiens’ top line, which alone accounted for 40.6 percent of the team’s scoring. Cole has said he is considering early retirement, this with three seasons left on his contract… At the other end of the self-imposed drama spectrum is P.K. Subban. The gregarious Subban, at the heart of Montreal’s young but potentially excellent defensive corps, is the lone contract holdout as the team goes into training camp this week. He wants a kazillion dollars and keys to the locker room for all eternity. He’s 23.
Veteran defenceman Andrei Markov’s story has been more of an epic tale of woe having spent most of the last two years in rehab following consecutive reconstructive knee surgeries. Somewhat understandably, somewhat hilariously, Markov recently told NHL.com that “I don’t want to talk about my knee.” Funny, ’cause that’s all anyone’s going to talk about the first time someone takes Markov heavily into the boards.
And also back in action is Canadiens captain Brian Gionta, who missed 51 games last season with torn biceps and hasn’t played in more than a year, and whose larger-than-height presence (he’s 5’7”) has been sorely missed. Though probably more sorely for him.
But enough about them, the real hockey story in Montreal has always been the club’s unfailingly, outspokenly loyal fans. In light of the recent lockout, the Canadiens organization says they intend to show their appreciation for the perpetual unconditional love with as-yet-unannounced goodwill gestures. In the meantime, they’re proceeding with a number of so-called “Hockey is Back!” initiatives this week.
On January 17, fans are invited to watch the team’s Red vs. White scrimmage at the Bell Centre, for free. On January 19, the first day of the new hockey season, Montreal will face arch rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs. The morning skates for both teams will be open to the public, with the Habs practising at 10:30 a.m., and the Leafs warming up at 11:30 a.m. And in further good news, all are invited to partake in a two-day sale, January 17 and 19, at the Habs Zone boutique in the Bell Centre – all Habs merch is 50% off.
What’s good news for Habs fans – who have never been afraid to show their love with money – is also good news for the many downtown restaurants which cater to hungry Habs fans, and also the many other popular game-watching destinations for which Montreal is renowned. And while the shorter season has doubtless been painful for many up ’til now, the 48-game season promises an intensity that wouldn’t otherwise be seen at this time of the year – the excitement across the city is already palpable as the lockout moves at light speed from forgiven to forgotten. Which brings us to tickets… The Canadiens have sold out every single game since 2004. ’Nuff said. (Cough- scalpers – cough)
And finally, for those who love their technology, the Canadiens – who can be followed/tweeted here – are offering loads of iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry apps, Habs browsers and toolbars, and a bunch of other cool and fun geeky stuff on their website. So go (to the ) Habs (website) go!