I think if we're going to really cheer for the new team wearing the CH this year, we've got to actually like the guys on the ice. So, I figure the first step in liking them is learning something likeable about them. I mean, really likeable...not just YouTube highlight reels. Something that gives us a little bit of insight into what they might bring to our team.
To that end, I did a little bit of research and found some interesting stuff about our new Habs. It's not much to tide us over until we see them up close and personal in our own team's colours, but it's a little introduction and a primer on what we can expect from these guys in the coming months.
What I now like about Travis Moen is that he's a farmer. As soon as the hockey season's over, he goes home to Saskatchewan and works from six in the morning until late afternoon on his family's farm. Then, when the farm day is over, he goes and works out for two hours in preparation for the next season. I like that he feels a responsibility to his family and isn't afraid of working like a dog all day. A lot of guys who graduate from farming to pro hockey would come home to visit, then take off to golf and spend their millions. Moen doesn't golf. I like that. I also like the fact that when he had his day with the Stanley Cup after winning it in Anaheim, he insisted on washing it himself after his family used it to hold ribs in a local restaurant.
His day with the Cup also gave me something to like about Brian Gionta. This is from the NHL's Stanley Cup journal, written by the guys who travel around with the trophy, from July 2003:
"Then, Brian snuck away with the Stanley Cup for a few minutes. He took the trophy up to his old room, still adorned with his childhood awards and trophies. "This is what every kid thinks about when he's playing," whispered Gionta. "I can't tell you how many times I've carried the Cup in my dreams." Had all the hard work paid off for the second year Devil? By watching Brian, his eyes closed and a slight smile tracing his lips as he held the Stanley Cup, you didn't need to wait for the answer. It was obvious. "
You've got to like a guy who brings the Cup back to the very place where he dreamed of winning it as a kid. I also like the fact that he's another guy who has worked at a real job outside hockey and who understands how the other half lives because of years spent helping out at his father's hardware store. And he's an experienced leader because he was captain of his team at Boston College. Lou Lamoriello, a pretty good judge of character, has only good things to say about him, explaining that the Devils drafted him despite his small stature because "you can't measure the size of his heart," and "we'd rather find out he couldn't play in the NHL than let someone else find out he could."
It was tough to find something to like about Hal Gill because of the natural Habs-fan antipathy toward a guy who's been both a Bruin and a leaf. But I had to laugh when I found out he wears one of those Snuggy blanket-with-arms things around the dressing room and doesn't care what anybody thinks. There's got to be something to like about a guy who goes his own way, despite the abuse he knows he's going to get from his teammates. I also like his sense of humour. A lot of his former teammates have mentioned how funny he is. My favourite quote from him came when someone asked him if a soft drink should be called "soda" or "pop." He replied, "I call it beer." I like a guy who's quick and will keep his teammates laughing.
Speaking of beer, Jaroslav Spacek admits he used to like going out on the town probably more than he should have. But now he's got two little kids and he says they've changed his life. He's become the guy who can't wait to get home from road trips and who spends Friday nights with his kids instead of his buddies. I like that he's a family man who's got the partying out of his system already. I think Habs fans have had enough of the party boy types to last us for a while.
Like Gill, Paul Mara is the kind of guy who'll keep his teammates loose. He never shuts up on the ice, and he seems to be a real cheerleader type of guy. I said I was looking for something beyond YouTube highlights, but this one really illustrates what Mara's like as a teammate:
There's something really likeable about a guy who sings Christmas songs on the ice and whistles on the PP. He's also the guy who'll go out and get a birthday cake for the team's trainer and make the whole room sing happy birthday to him.
Scott Gomez has a sense of humour too, but that's not the thing that makes me like him. I like that he spends his summers fishing at home in Alaska, and that he takes his responsibility as a role model for Latin American kids very seriously. He takes the time to personally write back to every Latino kid who writes him looking for inspiration. It might not seem like such a big deal to those of us who understand that these guys have tons of free time most of us don't get. But so do the rest of his NHL colleagues, and not many of them bother with personalizing things with the fans. I also like a story about Gomez from his first NHL training camp. He called every one of the veterans by his last name..."Mr.Brodeur," "Mr. Stevens," etc. His teammates called him Mr.Polite and laughed at his manners, but I think was respectful and showed his parents' values are still part of him.
I think of all the new guys, though, I like Mike Cammalleri the most. I have a lot of respect for Michigan head coach Red Berenson's opinions about hockey players. Here's what he said about Cammalleri back in 2000, when the little winger was still in college:
"Every shift he's dangerous with the puck," Berenson said. "He's strong on his feet, creative and scores big goals in big games."
Not only did he use his crafty puckhandling to make opposing defensemen look silly, he also unselfishly did the little things that Berenson says make a player great.
"If you can ask your best players to do everything that everyone else is supposed to do, including backchecking and blocking shots - Cammalleri has no problem with that and goes into it headfirst."
Berenson liked him enough to give him an "A" on his sweater; not something the veteran coach ever does lightly. And Cammalleri proved he deserved it when his team struggled early in the 2001 season. He publicly admitted their play was unacceptable, and took it upon himself to lead by example, which he did by putting up 61 points in 42 games. But I think my favourite thing about Cammalleri is his ability to make a difficult choice and follow it through. He doesn't give up, a fact illustrated by his decision to finish high school in three years instead of four in order to get into college early and advance his hockey career. This is from an old article in the Michigan college newspaper:
"He took extra courses, night classes, and three straight summers of school in order to graduate high school in three years - making him eligible to play for Michigan this past season.
This didn't come without a price, however. His nonstop schedule of hockey and classes wasn't the life of a normal teenager, which caused Cammalleri to do some soul-searching.
"I had 11 classes on the go at one time," Cammalleri said. "I remember one night not being able to go to sleep because I was so stressed out. I thought to myself that it wasn't worth it."
After discussing with his father in a late night chat the thought of waiting one more year, Cammalleri made the decision to not back down from the challenge and stuck with it.
"You've got to prioritize," Cammalleri said."
That's a guy who doesn't quit, and you have to like that on your team.
On the surface, it seems that Bob Gainey has added a whole bunch of small, speedy talent and some big grit to back it up. That's what all the critics will be talking about when they make their inevitable predictions about where the Habs will finish this year. But if you look a little bit beneath the surface, you see he's also added leadership, experience, honesty, dedication, hard work and fun as well. A lot of those qualities seemed to be lacking on last year's team, and I'm glad to see Gainey try to bring in the intangibles a winning team needs, as well as the on-ice ability.
So, that's what I've found to like about our new Habs. Now that I'm starting to care about them a little bit, I'm off to check out those YouTube highlights!