Wednesday, December 4, 2019

There's Life in the Old Team Yet


I have to admit, I dreaded last night's Habs 110th birthday celebrations at the Bell Centre. Injuries to key players, obvious holes in the lineup and an eight-game winless streak appeared to set the stage for one of those slightly cynical walks down memory lane the recent Canadiens have taken.

You know the ones: The Torch emerges, an emotional video montage stirs up the hearts of fans who remember the Stanley Cup in Montreal, leaving those who don't wondering what winning must have felt like. As the years have passed, more of the latter fill the seats and the ceremonies have begun to feel like an outdated organization throwing a new coat of paint over a broken infrastructure to hide the rusty spots.

Pleasantly, last night turned out to be a ceremony that was unexpectedly touching. Perhaps it's because all those people in the seats who've never seen the team win a Cup related to the players who didn't win one either. Although booed and criticized when they played, now that they've passed the torch, they...Pierre Turgeon, Brian Gionta, Saku Koivu...are part of the younger fans' understanding of the team and the nostalgia they feel for those players is no less valid than that of fans who watched Yvan Cournoyer hoist the trophy.

They're still Montreal Canadiens, and they did their best to uphold tradition, even when poor management, bad coaching, injuries, salaries and disadvantageous draft positions stripped away the winning culture their predecessors created. It was kind of refreshing to accept the legacy of players who tried and didn't quite reach their goals, instead of trying to wring every last drop of dusty romance out of the exploits of players long past.

So, on a night of brotherhood with an audience of new generation fans, it was right that Koivu got the loudest reception.

And it was right that Philip Danault scored with less than a second left in the first to give his team the lead in the same fashion in which they'd lost it so many times this year. It was right that the insurance goal was an end-to-end pinpoint shot from current captain, Shea Weber.

It's certain the win to break that losing streak gives a certain glow to the ceremony it might not otherwise have had. However, it also signalled a new kind of celebration of the team's history; one that includes the everyday players with whom most fans under forty identify. By including guys who will never be Hall-of-Famers, the team is no longer pretending the last 27 years haven't happened.