Have you ever wondered what really goes on at those team-building getaways the Habs hold every fall? I never did until now, and that's only because the team is such a disconnected group heading into camp. It makes me wonder how on earth they're going to become a cohesive unit in the couple of weeks before the season opens. I imagine they'll be going away on retreat sometime between the end of exhibition games and the first of October. And I imagine it might go something like this:
The Scene: A mountain retreat somewhere north of Montreal, in late September
A middle-aged man with long hair, purple bifocals and a pointy devil-beard called Rafael strolls to the centre of a large conference room that's been cleared of furniture. A circle of uncomfortable-looking large men in sweats watch the leader approach. He steps into the middle of the circle and steeples his fingers while slowly turning and surveying the men in his charge.
Rafael: Hello, gentlemen. My name is Rafael, and over the next few days, I am going to make you into a team. You will hate me before it's over, and you may even cry. But you will be a team.
Mike Cammalleri: (aside to Paul Mara) I pretty much hate him already.
Rafael: Do you have something you'd like to share with the group, (checks nametag) PAUL?
Mara: Ah...no...carry on. (grins at Cammalleri)
Rafael: Alrighty then. We're going to work in pairs today. I have your names here in this box, and I'll choose random partners. The idea is to get you all to really know a teammate other than the people with whom you'd normally spend your time. So if you get matched with a roommate or a close friend, let me know and we'll choose a different partner. Any questions? Okay then. (rummages in box) First name...Andrei...KO-seet-sin?...Okay, Andrei, step up right here. (rummages again) Your partner will be...Sergei...Koseetsin. Hmmm...are you guys related?
A.Kostitsyn: Nope. I have no brother.
S.Kostitsyn: I meet you at World Championship, no?
A.Kostitsyn: Never, no.
Rafael: (hesitates) Oooo...kaaay. Next pair...Hal Gill. Your partner will be...let me see here...Brian Gionta. We've got Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. Next...Georges Laraque and Scott Gomez. Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec...
Ten minutes of selecting partners pass
Rafael: Okay, you've all got partners now. We're going to start with some basic trust exercises. First, I want one partner to turn his back on the other.
Cammalleri: (in a stage whisper) I wouldn't turn my back on you...
(snickers around the circle, withering glance from Rafael)
Rafael: Then I want you to fall back and let your partner catch you. This will duplicate what happens on the ice, when you must depend on your teammates to be successful. Okay, ready? One...two...three...
Gionta: (wheezes) Gill, you freakin' battleship. Get off me before I crap my pants.
Gill: Sorry man...blame the freak for putting us together.
Gionta: Jeez, don't worry about me...go haul Big Georges off Gomer. I don't think he can breathe.
Rafael: Very good, everyone. Well, mostly. Sergei, you're supposed to actually catch your partner, you know.
Sergei: But so funny when brother...ah, partner...fall on floor.
Rafael: We're not here to be funny, we're here to become a team. Now, we're going to perform a little truth exercise. We can't really bond unless we're honest with one another. I'm going to ask each of you to tell his partner the first thing that comes to mind when you think of him. Let's start with...Andrei and Tomas. Go ahead, Andrei, what's the first thing you think of when you think about your teammate Tomas?
Markov: (shrugs) Um...I guess...leetle girl. Sorry, Pleky. He say tell truth.
Plekanec: Thanks a lot Marky. Nobody will ever forget that, will they?
Markov: You score thirty, we never say "girl" again, okay?
Rafael: Good, good. Now, Tomas, what comes to mind when you think of Andrei?
Plekanec: First thing is probably Komo, I guess. They played together so...
Markov: You don't say that name to me! You take it back! I love Canadiens. That leaf-boy is traitor. All the time I save his ass. Then he go to enemies like Habs bad vodka that make him sick. He make me sick. He says Marky make me player I am. Marky the best. Then he run away? Bah! I am glad he is gone. I maybe get some help now. Maybe somebody else carry puck out for a change. Traitor leaf!
(Entire team stares open-mouthed, having never heard Markov utter more than two consecutive words. After a beat of silence...)
Cammalleri: Hey, Marky, they told me you never shut up, but I didn't believe them.
Gorges: Yeah, shut up, Marky. Let someone else get a word in for a change.
Rafael: Okay, we're getting off track. Let's switch it up. We're going to play a game called Mine Field now. One partner will be blindfolded and the other will guide him through a series of obstacles using only verbal commands. Our first pair will be Jaroslav and Carey. Okay, Carey, here's the blindfold...can you see? Good. Now, Jaroslav, you tell him where to go.
Jaro: Really? I tell Carey where to go? Hahaha...is Bob listening? Haha. (intercepts Rafael's glare) Okay. Pricey, there is a bar in the way. About four feet up. Pretend there is a shot coming from point in about three seconds and drop to the knees. Haha. Just kidding. Crawl under bar. Now, stand up. Turn left, take two steps. Step over fruitcake leader guy blocking the way. Sorry, leader guy. Just kidding. Oh...not high enough. You okay, Pricey? You rolling around like when you got no clue where is the puck. Hahaha...just kidding.
Price: Look, Jaro, it's not my fault, okay? I can't help it if they keep putting me in there no matter what. I think you deserve more time.
Jaro: Really? Aw, man. That make me feel so good. Hey, you need to turn left and take three steps to side or you fall down again. Oops. Other left. Hahaha. Sorry. Really sorry this time.
Rafael: (emerging from back room with a box of foam paddles) Hey, you guys, that's a great breakthrough. I feel you releasing some of your pent-up feelings about each other and your roles on the team. Let's keep that going. I want everyone to take one of these paddles. We're going to vent some frustration. In this exercise, I want you to approach someone who's bothered you in some way, or with whom you've got an unspoken frustration. And, this may be shocking, but I want you to hit him with your paddle, while you tell him what's on your mind. Then, when the problem has been verbalized, I want you to go off to a quiet place and talk it out. Does everyone have a paddle? Ready? GO!
(Rafael turns and bolts as 23 pissed-off hockey players chase him with foam paddles. He's not fast enough. Ten minutes later, the team-building guru is naked and hog-tied with hockey tape on the floor, quietly weeping as 23 paddles lie scattered around his trembling form and their wielders troop off together for a couple of beers.)
Bob Gainey: (quietly surveying the damage) Well, Jacques, I think that went well.
Jacques Martin: Bob, you're a genius.
Gainey: Not really. I've known for a long time that the best way to build a team is to give them all a common enemy. The rest sorts itself out.
Martin: I think that poor fruit has earned his bonus, wouldn't you say?
Gainey: If this bunch wins a Cup, you can double it.
Martin: So, did this tell you who should be captain?
Martin: Who do you think?