Keeping It "Real" in Montreal: Canadiens' Season In Review pt. 1

Andrew BlanchetteCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2008

It was a typical, cold April morning in Montreal when the beloved Canadiens stepped off the plane, onto frozen, Quebec soil, after their final game of the season.  This was not the feeling the players, coaches, nor the fans though they’d be feeling only a few hours ago. The Habs had lost their final game of the season, 6-5, to their biggest rivalas the Toronto Maple Leafs. This one loss, had knocked them out of playoff contention.

Michael Ryder’s hat trick wasn’t enough to push the Habs over the cliff, and hab nation was all in all, depressed. Not only because another season had ended in defeat,  but because their garnered tradition of victory, which has lasted a century, was slowly diminishing for the first time, and the city was finding it difficult to cope with constant disappointment. Montreal is a city which demands only one thing from any sports team that graces the city with their presence: To win. The Montreal Expos were the hottest ticket in town until the 1994 MLB strike ruined their playoff bound season, and ultimately their future in the city, as the Expos fell into a spiral which included playing in front of crowds no larger than that of the NFL Draft. Heck, even the CFL team Allouettes have played in 4 of the last 6 Grey Cups, but the Habs are totally different. They never have had a risk of becoming a less than superior franchise in the NHL. But when it’s been 15 years since the last time the Canadiens were able to sip champagne from the oldest trophy in Pro sports, it’s only natural for Montrealers to get a little restless.

Fast forward 6 months.

It was a typical, beautiful October evening in North Carolina as the Montreal Canadiens hit the ice to play their first game of the 2007/2008 campaign. New faces, such as brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, free agents Bryan Smolinski and Roman Hamrlik, and young phenom Carey Price got the opportunity few people have ever gotten before. The chance to dawn the Red and Blue, and join the most one of the most storied franchise in sports. But the new comers had the same idea that the veterans had that evening, to restore the winning tradition to Montreal. Two goals by captain Saku Koivu, amazing saves by Goalie Cristobal Huet and an OT victory later, the Habs had the first win of the season under their belt. And as the season slowly progressed, a Buzz formed around the team. Maybe just maybe, this was the team that could change the losing ways, and bring back tradition.

This season has already brought up many different, interesting topics of conversation.

The fact that Andrei Kostitsyn has overcome all of the critics who said he couldn’t compete in the NHL due to his epileptic condition, and has stepped into his role as the left wing on one of the best line the Habs have had since the Guy Lafleur era. How he has added 24 points to help the Canadiens achieve the success they have to date.

The fact that Alex Kovalex, the player who many criticized for supposedly  already having his flight booked to return to his native country of Russia before that crucial game against the Leafs was played last season (A game in which he put forth a less than substantial effort), has transformed into the player everyone had hoped for, and for the first time, has finally earned the A on his jersey, becoming a clear leader for the extremely young Canadiens team.
But overall, the front office has to get some credit for the job they have done so far this season. Bob Gainey, the man who lost his  25 year old daughter Laura when she was swept overboard a boat while sailing only one year ago, has had a massive impact on this current squad, and we can only hope that he continues to make the excellent decisions he has in the past, to keep on improving the already excellent roster. Guy Carboneau,  who is in his second season behind the bench for the Canadiens, has added his dynamic of defensive minded hockey to Gainey’s eye for flashy offensive talent to combine one of the best Canadiens team in years.

Fast forward 3 months.

It’s a typical, cold, January night in downtown Montreal. Another sold out crowd empties out of the Bell Centre after a 5-2 Canadiens win. Habs nation is pleased with the progress, but realize the task ahead of them. The season is 82 games long, and a good first half will not cut it, they need to not let up and finish strong. But as the Habs faithful exit the warm arena and into the Cold, Quebec night, there is a sly smirk on their face. Because slowly, but surely, the winning tradition, the magic, has started to come back to the team, and the city.