Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lovin' the Habs, But Not Lovin' the Habs...If You Know What I Mean

I am a Habs fan. I love the Montreal Canadiens. I love the history, the lore, the tradition of winning. I love the characters, the close calls, the stories and the memories. What I don't love right now are a lot of the players.

I have been forced to admit a lot of the current Habs are just not loveable. Andrei Kostitsyn, for example. Maybe it's the language barrier, but Kostitsyn comes across as thuggish...a guy who wants to make a living at hockey, but isn't too terribly concerned about continuing the great winning tradition of the team for which he plays. If he is, in fact, burning with an internal fire that's driving him with a passion to win, then I apologize for the misunderstanding. But somehow, I think he's happy when he wins and just a little less happy when he loses...as long as the cheque doesn't bounce. He's a good player when he's going all out, but he's not a loveable player.

Chris Higgins is another one. He's got a great backstory: The New York firefighter's kid who grew up in a house where the children were named for former Habs, the only Canadiens' fans in the neighbourhood. For the son to grow up and become a first-round pick of the team his father loves so much must have been like a fairytale in the Higgins family. But the reality of Chris Higgins as a guy who mopes and wallows when things aren't going his way, and who's acquired the reputation of being a party animal, win or lose, isn't quite the same as the fairytale. You'd think a guy who grew up with the same love of the team the rest of us have would be the one who'd be busting his butt on every shift. Instead, we have a guy who's been largely invisible on the ice and who has a grand total of eighteen points in forty-seven games. Worse, he's the guy who speaks sarcastically about the pressure of performing "in this city" and about how the fans and the media expect too much. That's just not loveable.

It's hard to love Carey Price when he cries after losing...pity yes, but not love. It's hard to love the faceless Roman Hamrlik too. The only time he's spoken publicly in recent memory was to explain his unloveable connection to a mobster. It's hard to love Alex Kovalev when he tries to win a game by himself and ends up giving the puck away or taking a stupid frustration penalty. And it's hard to love Alex Tanguay who's only had half a season to prove he was worth a first-round pick and has been invisible for half that stretch. I have great respect and admiration for captain Saku Koivu, but I don't love him. He's a little too self-contained and private to inspire that kind of love.

Of course, some of them can still make me feel the love. I have to love Tomas Plekanec...the Mechanic...who works his tail off on every shift, wears that nifty turtleneck and looked destroyed when the Flyers scored the nail-in-coffin empty netter in the last playoff game last season. That's a guy who cares about winning. Jaro Halak is a winner too. You have to love a guy who's forced hockey people at every level to take notice, even when the inclination was to pass him over for a flashier competitor, and who genuinely competes in every game. Andrei Markov has emerged as being a player you can love, with his great talent and vision and his passionate goal celebrations. His better English these days is revealing a sly sense of humour too. And you have to love Tom Kostopoulos and Maxim Lapierre, if only because they leave their hearts on the ice every night.

The problem with the Habs right now, though, is that there are more guys on the team that are hard to love than those who make rooting for them easy. Maybe winning would make it easier to love them...but somehow I doubt it. They are what they are, and on the whole, it's not that inspirational.


Topham said...

I have a feeling a couple of wins will put you right back in love.

I'd add a player to love in Guillaume Latendresse. He is lucky in finding those loose pucks with his slow feet in a way that you know it can't all be luck.

A player very hard to love indeed is Mike Komisarek who continues to prattle on and on like he believes he is a leader but plays like the 18th best on the majority of nights.

J.T. said...

I don't know, Topham. A couple of wins can't hide the general unloveablity of a lot of these guys. A tip of the hat on the Gui love though. He's a guy who's just put his head down and tried his best while people have been alternately lauding him as the great new French Canadian hope and slamming him as an overhyped underachiever. I like him...bordering on love.

The jury's out on Komo for me. I've always liked him, but his play this year has been very trying. I think he got very, very messed up by Lucic and what we're seeing now is just a shadow of the guy we used to love. I guess the question to which we need an answer before determining how loveable he is is whether he'll ever be that guy again.

Johnny_O said...

From what I know Koivu is a leader in the clubhouse, not in the media. For that I do love the guy - and his story is amazing...what he's had to overcome. You can't argue that he gives his all every shift.

dwgs said...

I encountered the Kostitsyn bros. at the Habs blood donor clinic in the fall and all I can say is it's a good thing they can play hockey cause they're not gonna make it through life on charm alone. It's not a language thing, trust me. I had my six year old son with me and I took a picture of him with each of them, neither one of them could muster so much as a smile for a(n adorable) kid. That ain't right no matter what language you speak. Kirk Muller, on the other hand, was great.
JT, just realized you were missing from HI/O and looked around to find out what was going on. I respect your call, their site is poorer without you. You've gained a regular reader.