Monday, January 21, 2013
Pundits and fans, both for and against the Habs, were nearly unanimous in their opinion on Saturday that the home-opening ceremony, featuring a burning torch passed from former captain to former captain, was both touching and well done. Nearly everyone who mentioned it made a comment like "nobody does these things like the Habs." So it feels rather traitorous to say I didn't think the same thing.
It's not that it's not wonderful to see legends like Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Yvan Cournoyer showing they're still connected to the team they helped make great. The memories they evoke for those who remember them playing are sweet. The problem is, it's been a very long time since those men skated out in the sweater, and many of the people packing the Bell Centre on Saturday never saw them play. Half of them probably didn't even see Vincent Damphousse, the most recent captain to take part in the ceremony. So, while including the past in the ceremony was nice, focusing on it serves to underline the stark fact that the franchise hasn't won a Stanley Cup in twenty years. The Habs bring out the heroes because there's nothing else left of greatness within the organization.
The saddest part of the ceremony was the frailty of those great men. Beliveau, at 81, held the torch with a trembling hand. Seventy-six year old Richard had trouble negotiating the Bell Centre stairs. Showing them still having to carry the torch, literally and figuratively belies the lines of John McCrae on the Canadiens dressing room wall. "To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high." Those words mean the men who have brought glory to the franchise are ready to pass the responsibility to the young men who will protect and carry on their legacy. Only, there's been nobody fit to do that in two decades so the weary old men are still called to duty.
The torch, too, was a symbol overwrought with in-your-face sentiment. When it emerged, I felt vaguely embarrassed and slightly uncomfortable; a little bit like Ottawa fans must have felt when their team broke out the Spartan to launch their 2008 playoff bid. The Senators looked like they were trying to stir their fans' emotions with a gimmick, and so, on Saturday night, did the Habs. Maybe the problem is the frequency with which the organization does this kind of thing. After so many versions of ceremonies in which the Canadiens remind us of past glories, we start to get bored with it all and want to experience some glory for ourselves. We don't want stories, we want the real thing, and without it, the ceremonies lose their meaning.
That said, there were three moments that stood out through the whole thing. First, when current captain Brian Gionta received the torch from Beliveau. He had a look of such pride and respect on his face as he took the flame from the greatest captain the team has ever had. Second was Alex Galchenyuk standing at centre ice listening with bemused awe to the thundering ovation of fans who want nothing more than to see him succeed for them. And third was when Carey Price came out last and didn't just hold the torch in the middle of the arena, but thrust it straight over his head with a kind of fierce defiance. These are the players who will move the team into the future, and really take the figurative torch from the failing hands who are getting too old to be the beating heart of the franchise much longer.
It's those players who should be the focus of the next ceremony. Instead of simply honouring the past, the Canadiens have made the mistake of wallowing in it. The team needs to look ahead and build something of which these young men can be proud. When new players come to Montreal, instead of saying they're glad to be playing for a team with such a great history, they should be saying they're thrilled to be signing with a winner. Otherwise there will be nobody left who remembers what it's like to be a champion in Montreal and the torch will flicker and go out.
Posted by J.T. at 12:50 AM