Monday, August 30, 2010

Starting Over

A friend of mine has been a Canadiens fan for thirty years. He grew up with the great '70s dynasty on Hockey Night In Canada every Saturday evening. Now, his boys are fans too, with posters of their heroes on the bedroom wall and dreams of being those guys when they shoot countless orange balls until the street lights come on. Last week, my friend ordered a St.Louis Blues sweater with Jaroslav Halak's name on the back. When I asked him about it, he said "They finally lost me."

I think there hasn't been as polarizing an issue among Habs fans as the Halak versus Carey Price debate, at least not in recent memory. In comparison, the Kovy vs. Koivu leadership argument, the "Gainey good/Gainey bad" discussion and the lamenting over the 2003 draft are mere quibbles. We may have to look back to the Patrick Roy trade to find an issue about which Habs fans were quite so emotional.

I confess, I don't really understand why this has happened. Nobody was going nuts about whether Lapierre or Latendresse was the better player to the point of personal insult, even though people had opinions on the subject. Even though Lats got traded, nobody went off the deep end about how the team will regret it forever and how Lats will lead the Wild to the Cup...just you watch! Sure, people expressed disappointment in or appreciation of the trade, but it didn't divide Habs fandom down the middle like Moses parting the Red Sea. I know only one goalie can play at a time, and fans of one think their guy could have done better than the other in every loss, but the depth of passion around the two netminders is astonishing.

Today, Halak's agent, Allan Walsh, announced Jaro's plan to sign autographs in Montreal on Saturday, and donate the proceeds to a children's hospital. This has apparently caused some Price fans to suspect it's a PR stunt arranged by Walsh to embarrass the Canadiens. Then there are the ones who won't speak Halak's name anymore; the ones who say he's "the enemy" because he's no longer a Canadien. Lots of people who were "converted" and raving about Halak's heroics in the playoffs now dismiss him and say his efforts weren't really THAT important to the post-season run. On the other side, there are the Halak fans who say Price hasn't signed yet because he's trying to stiff the team for an oversized, undeserved raise since he's got the team over a goaltending barrel. Others are mocking Price's rodeo passtime and painting him as a lackadaisical cowboy, more interested in country music than hockey. The nasty comments are completely out of whack for a fanbase that was lucky enough to have two good, young goalies that most other teams' fans would have been thrilled to have.

With the new season approaching, though, it's time for all Canadiens fans to start over. I know hockey fanatics thrive on the "what ifs" and "if onlys" years after a trade is made, but for the good of our team and our mental health, all of us have to look forward.

This is how I'm looking at it: I really thought Halak was the goalie who gave my team the best chance to win, and I thought his competitive spirit was something special. I was hoping the team would hold onto both him and Price for another year because I thought it was too early to pick one or the other for the long term. However, Pierre Gauthier decided to trade Halak away. I didn't like the trade and I think Halak will have a really good NHL career. BUT, I'm a Habs fan, so whether I agree with the trade or not, Carey Price, when he signs, will be my team's goalie and I will cheer for him with all my heart. If he has a bad year, it's bad for the Canadiens and anybody who hopes he'll suck just to vindicate their opposition to the trade or support for Halak isn't a Habs fan. I'll always have the greatest respect and appreciation for what Halak did in the playoffs, but I'll now be cheering for Lars Eller and Carey Price to fulfill their promise.

When Price leads the team out on the ice at the ACC on October 7, there will be a ton of Canadiens supporters in the crowd. If they're really fans, they'll cheer themselves hoarse for him and the rest of his teammates just because they're the Montreal Canadiens, and they're playing on enemy ice. When the home-opener comes around on October 13, I hope the Bell Centre crowd will cheer Price on, even if they bought Halak sweaters during the playoffs. The kid, and the rest of the team, need support and patience. They're not going to win every game, and they're not going to get a shutout in every win.

The bottom line is, we fans have no say about what managers do or why they do it. Our job is to support all the players wearing our team's sweater. Price may have his struggles again this season, but it won't be any easier for him if fans start booing him after every mistake. We have to remember that, whatever we thought of Halak or the trade, it's in the best interest of our team to support the goalie we've got left. As long as he's a Canadien, he's on our side and we should be on his. It's a new year and a new beginning.

Of course, all that being said, we're fans and fans like to study stats, compare players and propose imaginary trades. We also like to criticize. While I think there's certainly room for that...after all, in the heat of a game, if Price gives up a stinker we're not all going to say "That's okay, Pricey. You'll get 'em next time." We're going to complain about his five-hole or his giveaways or his losing sight of the puck AGAIN. That's okay, but we need to be a little bit forgiving and let it go afterwards.

Like it or not, Price is the goalie our team's got now. He deserves a clean start, no matter what's happened before. Fans need to be willing to give him that much. Otherwise, I hear there's a good deal going on St.Louis Blues sweaters.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Has this been a boring off-season or what? I don't mind, though. It's nice to sit in a the afterglow of the Canadiens' improbable eliminations of the Caps and Pens for a little while, and, after the turmoil of last summer, it's kind of nice to know a little bit about what to expect this year. Unlike the run up to last season, we're not asking how the players will respond to Martin as coach, or who'll play with whom or whether the big new contracts will work out. We're no longer worried about the team getting crushed because the players are too small. This year, we've got a handle on those basic issues.

Of course, there are still small matters about which to wonder. Within the next couple of months, we'll know the answers to such burning questions as the cost and duration of Carey Price's contract, which up-and-comer will make the team on the fourth line and whether it's true Andrei Markov will really be ready to start the season. Then there are the two big questions; the huge unknowns that will make or break the season.

The first mystery is how the kids will perform. Management decided to part ways with most of the players who filled last year's bottom-two lines. Gone from last October are Latendresse, Laraque, Chipchura, Metropolit and Sergei Kostitsyn. The guys who filled some of those roles later in the season, Moore and Bergeron, are gone too. As we learned last year and saw reconfirmed in the playoffs, the bottom-six forwards might not be stars, but they provide the foundation for the game. They give the skilled guys something...a hard hit, a timely goal, a drawn penalty, a heroic shot-block... on which to build when a team is winning. Last year's crop of kids couldn't cut it. Latendresse couldn't stick on the top lines and didn't do much on the bottom ones before he gave up and got traded. Kostitsyn got cut out of camp and showed his childish colours afterwards. Chipchura didn't do much of anything. Ben Maxwell did less during his twenty-game call up. Ryan O'Byrne (does he still count as a kid?) got benched every time he made a boneheaded play. Carey Price lost many more games than he won and sometimes let his temper get the best of him.

So this year, the team's trying again. P.K. Subban will start on defence, and the expectations of him are enormous. He performed under the ultimate pressure in the playoffs so admirably that many fans assume he's already leaped the rookie hurdles every player has to negotiate. He's certainly come a long way, but there's a big question about whether he'll be able to handle a full NHL season with such aplomb. Then there's the third line. In the playoffs, the Moore/Pyatt/Lapierre line was a revelation of doggedness, speed and aggression. This year, Lars Eller will get a chance to take Moore's place, and Dustin Boyd will get every chance to bump one of Pyatt or Laps to the fourth line. There'll be one spot open for another rookie, most likely on the bottom line. Ryan White is the Bulldog who showed the most grit and determination last year, who'd have a good shot at sticking in that role, but guys like Maxwell and Desharnais might push management in camp to give one of them a shot. Whoever makes it will have a chance to make a difference, if he can perform at the NHL level. Benoit Pouliot's also in that group. He's basically entering his second full big-league season and the pressure will be on for him to prove that he's able to score on a consistent basis like he did immediately after his trade. And, of course, there's Price, who will be under tremendous pressure to find a way to win games.

It's a big load for kids to carry, but the Canadiens' success will depend on them to a great extent. That's one of the biggest question marks facing the team in the coming season. The other one is a question of team identity. Who are the Canadiens?

On a winning NHL team, every player has a role and knows how to perform it well. Part of that comes from knowing what kind of team your team is supposed to be. Brian Burke is creating an identity for the leafs. They may be losers, but there's no question Burke intends to ice a big, defensively-sound, aggressive team. The Red Wings are slick and fast. The Penguins are planets revolving around Sidney Crosby's sun. The Flyers are skilled and fearless. The Devils are defence-first, rallying around Martin Brodeur. The Oilers are hungry and full of youthful promise. So the question is, what are the Canadiens?

The team went into last year without an identity. They were just a collection of mercenaries who'd signed on with no idea about what would happen. Along the way, distractions like Kostitsyn and Laraque were purged and stable influences like Pyatt and Moore joined up. In the crucible of the playoffs, they fused together with a real identity for the first time. They were the hard-working, self-sacrificing underdogs who united behind the banner of Jaroslav Halak to advance further than anyone expected they would. Now Halak is gone, and that unifying force with him.

Still, this year's team won't be starting from scratch. Guys like Gill, Gorges, Cammalleri and Gionta proved themselves to their teammates, and that won't go away. One of them will probably be named captain, and his particular values and ideals will be important to pulling everyone together under a single vision. It will also help that the team will have a real fourth line this year. Last year, the bottom-three forwards were a mishmash of whomever didn't fit anywhere else and often played less than five minutes a game. It's tougher for a team to establish an identity when it's carrying guys who just don't know where they belong. So, if everyone's not only clear about their jobs but also able to perform them well, there'll be a better understanding about what sort of team the Canadiens are supposed to be.

I'd like to see some of that hard-working, self-sacrificing identity established in the playoffs carry over into the season. I don't necessarily want to see the players regard themselves as underdogs, but I really liked that quiet determination to never quit they showed against the top-heavy teams. I appreciate that the team has decided to go with youth and let the kids have a chance to adopt the fledgling identity forged in the playoffs. If they're the right sort of kids, they can learn from it, and then build on it with their own talents. That's a little tougher now, with the loss of team-first guys like Metropolit, Halak and Moore, but I'm hopeful Eller, Boyd, White and Price are smart enough to leave the egos outside the room and buy into what their more-experienced teammates are selling.

The team's immediate future depends on them pulling their weight, and pulling together. I think the day is coming, and soon, when you can ask anyone about the Montreal Canadiens and they'll say, "Oh yeah, that team is fast, hardworking, determined and they always find a way to win." That's the identity they've started to build, and that's what the kids will have to help carry on.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


When Hockey Night In Canada tees up Don Cherry's sideshow during intermissions, it's most often a mix of hockey-related, semi-coherent bombast and blatant sentiment in his invariable tribute to fallen Canadian soldiers. I've often thought the two sides of Cherry's little presentation an incongruous pairing. It's not really, though, when you think about it.

How often to hockey players talk about "going to war" with teammates? Or say "it's a war out there?" Even the terminology entrenched in the game's language is war-related. He fired a cannon. The defence was under enemy attack. The third line plugged away in the trenches. They battled in the corners. In an age when most Canadian, American and European men live in peace and prosperity, playing a game like hockey is the closest they come to experiencing anything approaching warfare.

When a team is looking for the ideal captain, in that light, he has to be someone the players think of as a warrior. He needs to be someone whom others will follow without question. He should be a guy his teammates are a little bit afraid of; maybe someone who's just a tiny bit batshit crazy when needed...a guy who can give errant teammates The Look and have the goods to back it up. He doesn't have to be a star, but he should give his all every night and expect others to do the same. He needs to have the others' backs always, on and off the ice. That's what leadership is about. And maybe that's what Don Cherry is lamenting when he pays tribute to the lost young men of the Armed Forces. Real leaders aren't all that common, and losing one is a sad thing.

If a hockey team is lucky enough to have one, it should recognize him officially. I wonder to whom the Canadiens will give the nod this fall? Who will be the warrior they'll depend on to lead them into battle?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Club: The Game

Hey all! So, have you been busy reading Ken Dryden's "The Game," like we all agreed last month? I have. I went back and read through it again, so I'd be ready for this discussion. I thought maybe the best way to do this would be to throw out a few questions about your impressions of the book, and leave it open for comments. With that in mind:

1. What did you feel after you finished? For me, it was a kind of sad nostalgia, knowing that the dynasty was shortly to end and the team to be dismantled, and that there'd never be another Habs team that great again.

2. Dryden incorporates a lot of social commentary in the book. Did you enjoy that, or find yourself skimming it to get to the next hockey-related part?

3. Did you like the backgrounds of his teammates the author includes, or did you think it was a waste of space, since many of the players he probes have their own biographies out there?

4. There's a lot of "unvarnished" truth in the book, such as the incident with Shutt peeing in Tremblay's Coke. Did you think Dryden's account gave you an honest feel for what it was like inside the team at that time? Or did you think he skimmed over a lot of the gritty stuff in an effort to protect teammates' privacy?

5. Dryden makes several predictions in the book, including the controversial "the team will have to choose to be French or be good." What do you think of his foresight?

6. What did you feel was lacking in the book?

7. What do you think the book adds to the available wealth of hockey writing?

8. Do you think the book helps you get to know a team you may have never seen play? Or, if you did see that team play, does it bring you closer to the players you cheered for?

9. Is there anything you wish had NOT been included in the book?

10. Would you recommend it to a friend?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

No Carey, No Cry

Well, I'm away on holiday right now, and one thing I can tell you is that there are a LOT of Habs fans outside Quebec, even in the territory of some other teams. In fact, I have seen many, many more Canadiens' sweaters, hats, t-shirts, Youppi air fresheners and beach towels than I have of those pimping the other team (which shall remain nameless) in whose fandom I'm vacationing. It also appears that many of those red, white and blue t-shirt wearers are both fans of Carey Price, based on the numbers on the backs of said t-shirts, and worried about Price not having signed yet, based on conversations with some of them. Numbered among their worries are the fear of an offer sheet from another team, fear of a holdout by Price and concern that the team is playing hardball and risks alienating the kid.

I figure devotees of Price's should relax and accept two likely situations. First, he'll sign soon because he's restricted, nobody has yet sent an offer sheet his way and he's got little to gain by holding out. Second, this will probably happen again.

Price is an interesting case. He's been given the keys to the kingdom, which should translate to a solid number-one goalie kind of contract. On the other hand, he's not got the solid number-one stats to justify that kind of deal. The Canadiens have publicly and, with the trade of Jaro Halak, unequivocally, staked their future on the kid and want a long-term deal. They're also probably thinking they can use his stats to get a bargain. Price, on the other hand, surely believes he can do better, and wants to keep a deal short so he can re-set the last couple of years and try to improve his numbers. In the end they'll compromise, and Price will probably sign a two or three-year deal for a little less money than he likely wants. The team will bend on term and Price will bend on price. They'll have it wrapped up by training camp.

The problem for Price is, all this adds to the pressure to perform he'll already be facing. The number-one job is going to be tough enough, with no Halak or Huet behind him to be his safety net. Add the pressure of playing for a contract, and that turns up the heat already on him. That's just the internal pressure. He'll also have to deal with the expectations of a fanbase that fell in love with Halak in the playoffs, many of whom will have little patience for the guy who didn't get traded, if he doesn't perform right out of the gate. So, one of two things will happen. He'll either prove the newfound maturity his teammates remarked about during the playoffs is real and he'll handle the pressure better than he has in the past. Or, he'll prove the stick-breaking, eye-rolling, wall-punching Price is the real one, and he'll suffer under the unrelenting eyes of Montreal fans and media.

I believe Price is a little bit of both. He's probably maturing, but the sulky hothead is still a part of him as well. It's going to be a challenge for him this year, and over the duration of a short contract, to let the mature guy control his game most of the time. That's why I think we won't see the best he can offer a team in the next couple of years. He may be good, but while he struggles to grow up...with the understanding that he's playing for his future on top of'll be very difficult for him to be great. There will be brilliant nights and there will be stinking ones. He'll hear ovations and jeers. The question is whether the deal he signs now will be long enough for him to achieve more of the former and learn how to tolerate the latter. A short deal, which is what he and his agent are pushing for, will likely mean another summer like this one when it ends, because he'll think he can do better and the team will be looking for a bargain if he's inconsistent.

The worst-case scenario here would be if the team manages to win its push for a couple of years more on this contract. If Price has the freedom to walk away when this deal ends, he'd be within his rights to do so after living through the struggle of growing into his talent under a very jaundiced eye in Montreal.

I wonder if Price really has long-term plans for playing in Montreal after his early experience there in any case. The organization is making him THE young star around which the team will be built. There really hasn't been another guy in that situation. All the other Habs stars, like Roy, Lafleur, Beliveau, Robinson, Savard and Shutt had either a supporting cast, or time to grow into the roles they eventually assumed. Price is unique in that he's been shoved to the fore and announced as the future of the team; a thoroughbred, before he's ready to be a saviour. There's no established hero or francophone favourite to take some of the heat off him. And those other guys had a real razzle-dazzle sort of component to their personalities that warmed up under the limelight. Price tolerates it. I've no doubt he likes the perks being a star brings, but I think he doesn't enjoy the scrutiny of performance that comes with it. I always get the feeling Carey Price grew up wanting to play hockey because the game is fun, but he can have fun without the stuff he hates, like public pressure and constant criticism, somewhere else. The only link he has to Montreal is that the Canadiens happened to be the team that drafted him, and that's a link easily broken in today's professional leagues.

I want Price to earn whatever contract he signs so there are no doubts about his value or his ability when his next deal comes around. With the way negotiations are going right now, though, I think it's shaping up to be a difficult couple of years for him during which he may or may not develop as a player. And I think whatever happens in this contract will set the tone for whether he's a career Hab or a star who might have been. In light of that, it's a good thing this deal is taking a while to construct. All parties need to be very careful and very sure about what they're asking for and the consequences therein.

Now, back to vacation.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Ballad of the Run of Twenty-Ten

One point was all they needed in the last game of the year.
They had to pull it off against T-O.
But points were rare as diamonds and our hearts were filled with fear
'cause truculence makes Habs confused and slow.

Still, losing in the shootout gave the Habs the point they craved;
the playoffs on the last shot, guaranteed.
Although the lowly eighth place wasn't quite the season "saved,"
we knew not what the finish would precede.

The Caps up first, the league's best team. A real tough way to start.
Few people gave the Habs a fighting chance.
'Cause no one thought such talent could be beaten by just heart
and a goalie determined to advance.

Our goalies might be better, honest Tom Plekanec said.
"That's Jagr?" Jose Theodore replied.
Halak controlled Game One while kind of standing on his head.
Tom Jagr scored to prick old Theo's pride.

Game Two looked like an upset with a three-to-nothing lead.
Then refs became unfortunately blind.
The Caps took back their home ice with impressive, blazing speed.
We Habs fans thought our team was in a bind.

The next two games sure proved it, with the Caps up three-to-one.
But then the unexpected came to pass.
The Habs all pulled together and their season wasn't done.
Gill even put Ovechkin on his ass.

Game Five arrived, our hopes were low, their backs were to the wall
An early goal by Cammy kicked it off.
Moen tossed a backhand in, with Halak still standing tall
Then even Ovy hadn't room to scoff.

There's a place, a zone, a planet, where special goalies go
where nothing from the outside touches them
Game Six belonged to Jaro, with old Ovy throwing snow,
Cammy helped, but our goalie pitched a gem.

Game Seven was a thriller, one that no one could expect
A loss in it would surely be no shame.
But Bergie fired a rocket and Dom Moore earned some respect.
Without Spacek, the Habs squeaked out the game.

The Caps were down, the Pens were next: the Stanley-winning team
Despite all odds, our hopes began to rise.
The Penguins quickly crushed them, though Subban's goal fuelled the dream
They didn't see the fire in Cammy's eyes.

Habs wouldn't drop another one before they tied it up
Mike Cammalleri scored another two.
Gio came on board as well, to make sure the win was theirs
But Cammy's bat from mid-air was the cue.

The champs weren't lying down, though, and they came out fighting hard
The third game was a blank, honestly won
The fourth one saw the Habitants fight back and tie the card
On weird-goal night, Laps had the extra one.

The see-saw see-sawed in Game Five and Fleury stole the show
Halak was good, but just not good enough.
Crosby smiled and knew his team would crush his unworthy foe
The Habs bore down; they knew they had it tough

Gill and Gorges sacrificed, they took lots of bruises back.
Spacek fired a bomb, hurt his spinning head.
Back and forth they went until Lapierre joined the attack.
Sid Crosby cracked his stick and swore in dread.

The showdown came on Pittsburgh ice, Pens confidence was shot
Sid, in the box when Gio scored the first
Moore and Cammy scored the next two and Moen, too, got hot
Gonchar got stripped and then the Pens dream burst.

The Flyers were the next team, but by then the Habs were done.
Sometimes the bravest, greatest fighters fall.
So, although they fell to Philly, by God that run was fun.
For two sweet months, the Habs held us in thrall.

Thanks to Gill and Gorges and to our Cammy and Halak.
And to Gio, to Pyatt and Subban.
We hope they will pick up right there again when they get back.
But still, we are so proud of every man.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Very Captainesque

Who knew Josh Gorges was such a tease? A lot of people, including me and Don Cherry, think he'd be a great captain of the Montreal Canadiens. So, earlier this week, he gave an interview in which he said he's pretty sure he knows who the new captain will be, but demurred when the interviewer asked if it's him. He said "when it gets announced,it'll be an exciting time for him and for the team." The interesting thing was that he gave this interview while attending and helping out at the Jacques Martin hockey camp. He said the coach...who will be the guy choosing the new captain...called him and asked him to take part. I wonder how many of the other Canadiens were on Martin's speed-dial when it came to picking hockey camp instructors?

It's very interesting too that in body language psychology, looking down and to the right when asked questions often means the person is thinking of creative answers, or trying to cover something up. Gorges did it three times when asked about whether he'll be the captain or knows who the captain will be.

Another little incident that seems kind of telling is that Gorges, after appearing at the Martin hockey camp this week, flew to Calgary today for the official announcement of February's Heritage Classic. He was the only Canadiens player present, and had a prepared speech he read to the gathered crowd. I found it fascinating that of all the Canadiens players possible, including Carey Price who's already training in Calgary, and Mike Cammalleri, who loves the spotlight and is certainly a more high-profile player than Gorges, they picked the young defenceman to represent the team today.

In June, Gorges was the player selected by the team to travel to the NHL draft in Los Angeles and welcome the new Canadiens to the organization. At that time, several people at the draft noted his presence and wondered "why him?"*

Gorges is a friend to Carey Price and was reportedly inspirational during the playoffs. He's been a captain before, and led a team to a championship. He'll also have a basic French because he was schooled in Canada, so perhaps he'd have an easier time than a lot of guys in adding to that base. He's certainly the type of guy who'd try to do his best.

All of this may be nothing more than coincidence. Maybe lots of players attended Martin's hockey camp, but RDS only caught up with Gorges for an interview. Perhaps Gorges was the only one available to fly out to Calgary for the announcement of the Classic and appear in the photo op wearing the Habs sweater. I just find it very captainesque of him to be at both the camp and the announcement, all within a few days. One would think if Brian Gionta or Mike Cammalleri or Andrei Markov were to be announced as captain in a few weeks, the team would be promoting them and encouraging their presence at those kinds of events. Or maybe not. Maybe the new captain, if it's not Gorges, just couldn't make it.

All I know is the only Canadiens player we've seen anywhere official this summer is Gorges, and maybe that fact actually means something.

*Thanks to Kyle and Steve for reminding me in the comments that Gorges was also representing the players at the draft! Photo by Dylan Lynch/Getty Images

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Top Ten Carey Price Excuses For Not Signing

As August rolls along, the Canadiens are thinking about the coming season. There was a nice interview with Josh Gorges on RDS today, discussing his anticipation of getting back on the ice. Training camp will be here in just a few weeks and the contenders for lineup spots are just about set. All except one. Carey Price remains a restricted free agent and the number-one goalie slot is glaringly empty. This has many Habs fans, already possible candidates for anti-depressant clinical trials, fighting each other for the best spots on the ledge. They really don't need to worry, though. Carey Price has legitimate reasons for why he's not signed his contract yet. Here are his top ten excuses:

10. My horse ate my contract.

9. I was mobbed by girls who wanted me to sign their boobs and one of them took my pen.

8. I took it into the sweat lodge to ponder it and it got all soggy.

7. I wanted my signing bonus in Molson's products, but my agent says ten percent of a 2-4 isn't good enough.

6. I was in Church, asking God to send a hundred million moths to eat up my barber pole sweater and they got my contract instead.

5. I was out in the back country and I ran out of toilet paper.

4. I did sign it. I put "The Franchise," but the league said it wasn't valid.

3. I made a paper airplane out of it while I was sitting on the bench during the playoffs.

2. You know how I roll. I'll get to it. September's weeks away.

1. Na na na na na na na na, hey hey hey goodbye! PSYCH!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lazy Hazy Days of Yearning

So, this is how it feels to be an addict. It's early morning and I'm looking out at the stillness of what promises to be a perfect summer day. The morning haze is already burning off under a gorgeous tapestry of pink and orange sky. The early birds are calling for their worms and the air is perfumed with the scent of blooming roses drifting through the open window. The long shadows of dawn are shrinking beneath the rising sun. I'm looking out at the beauty of this August morning and I'm thinking about hockey.

On this relaxed, glorious day, in a place in which such days are counted as precious as pearls on a string, I'm craving ice and competition. Don't get me wrong; I love summer. I love the beach and the barbeques and the sunny afternoons spent reading in my garden and the chance to get off the treadmill and run in the fresh air. I love having snowsuits banished to the basement. It's just that on the way to the beach I'm thinking about how Louis Leblanc will do at camp, and the book I'm reading is a biography of Doug Harvey. I'm torn between the two hockey-fan solitudes: wanting to be fully immersed in summer, but unable to completely shake the winter game. These are the summer DTs.

The comforting thing is, I know I'm not alone. The fact that all of you come and read this blog for a hockey fix makes me feel like I have company. We all know it's not too bad if you're actually outside doing something summery. It's when you're indoors, if it's raining, or if you have to work through lunch. That's when you have time to skim through hockey sites online and the anticipation of the coming season starts to take hold. Then, someone will post a highlight video of last season's playoffs. If that should happen, you should never click on it. All the excitement, terror and hope comes rushing back into your unprepared summer-mellow mind in a crashing emotional wave. You end up yearning for it to be October already, and for someone to drop a puck, somewhere. Your week of clean living collapses in a hedonistic indugence akin to drinking straight whiskey out of a paper bag.

I try to talk myself out of it. I read all the cynical views of hockey as a racket and the NHL as the money-grubbing whore of the sport. I know it's true, too. But that's the head. The heart says the Montreal Canadiens are a passion for many of us, and I just can't quit them, even for a summer.

So, from one addict to another, let's find a way to get through it together. I'm thinking of having a blog-based book club. I'll take suggestions for hockey books, then post the choice of the month. We'll all go and secure a copy from the library or wherever and then, at the end of the month, we'll throw out our impressions for discussion. We probably won't have time to do it every single month once the season gets underway, but it could be fun to start now, do it periodically over the season, then have it established to get us through next summer.

If you're up for it, I'll make the first book "The Game" by Ken Dryden. It's the quintessential insider's look at the 1970s Habs dynasty. If you've read it already, great! You're ready to go. If not, it's a good chance to read one of the best hockey books ever written and feed the addiction a little bit. What do you all think?

Addicts everywhere, unite!