Wednesday, 8 February 2012

HABS-TOWN: "The Canadiens are total pushovers"

Today, I'm staring a new feature here on "The Breakdown". 

After a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Canadiens still find themselves (realistically) playing out the string. It's becoming more and more difficult to write something new after each and every game as many of the things I notice are more of the same.

As the Habs continue to slide down the standings, the playoffs become less and less a realistic option this season, seats at the Bell Centre are suddenly available - and yet, this is still a HABS TOWN.

Sports talk radio still talks Habs almost 24/7 and every day there are new stories to tell. Who are the people calling in? Who are the people covering the team? Why is everyone in this town so passionate? "HABS-TOWN" will be a recurring feature here on "the breakdown"meeting the fans, the media, and everyone in between talking about their passion for all things Habs. Our first fan is Noah Sidel.

Noah Sidel is a writer and all around sports-nut.I first met Noah at Dawson College, at the time he was a writer at "The Plant" - Dawson's student newspaper. Noah covered all the Cegep sports you could think of  - while also acting as a Goal tending coach for the very first Dawson Blues Women's hockey team.

We have played hockey together and against each other various times in the entwining years and while we share a birth year, we don't share much else. Noah's got a great blog which stemmed from his NDG free press column "Off-Sidel". He mostly talks about sports, but he's also not afraid to talk political or business issues if it suits his fancy. He's also a regular writer on 

Sports are such a huge part of Noah's life, that leading up to his Daughter's birth last May, he and his wife held a bracket tournament to "Name Baby Sidel".

Between his blog and his articles in the NDG free press, Noah's love for the game of hockey - particularly the NDG minor program - is evident. The fact that he is also a well spoken, opinionated person, makes him a great person to talk to about the Habs.

What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I've loved hockey and the Canadiens as far back as I can remember, which would probably be the 1987-88 season when I was six, going on seven. I started playing in the NDG Hockey organization the following season, first as a defenceman, then as a goalie, the following year. Playing the game with my dad as my coach and watching games with him as a kid was one of the best parts of growing up. He's been a Habs fan since he was a little kid 1950s and really passed that on to me at an early age.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
Absolutely. I don't remember the exact year - would have been in either the 87-88 or 88-89 season. My dad took me to the Forum for a Canadiens/Sabres game and there was this really loud guy sitting next to my dad cheering for the Sabres. He kept yelling "let's go, Buff-aaa-loooo!" and a group of girls a few rows down would yell back "let's go les Canadiens!" every time. It was an amazing experience. The Sabres fan also kept trying to give my dad beer, but that's not his thing, so it was funny watching my dad turn down this guy's offer of free beers for two-three hours. I remember that so vividly. The Habs won, by the way - in fact, they won or tied every game I went to until I was something like 16.

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever? if so, whom, and why?
My favourite player of all-time is Patrick Roy. As a goalie growing up in Quebec in the late-80s/early-90s, it was impossible not to be a huge Roy fan. And of course, I styled my game after him as much as I could. That said, however, I think the player that I most respected as a Hab was Kirk Muller. I've always been the kind of person who respects hard work over talent, and while Captain Kirk had all the talent in the world, it was his work ethic and leadership that always impressed me. I'll never forget the goal he scored to eliminate the Sabres from the playoffs, high, left-side over Darren Puppa.

Where do you like to watch games?
I'm not really picky where I watch - at home, at a bar/restaurant, at my dad's, a friend's, at my in-law's place - I don't really care. While it's very true that I'm a Habs fan win or lose, I do go hot-and-cold with watching games. Sometimes I'll watch a whole bunch of games in a row and really get into it, sometimes I'll go half a season watching only a period here and a period there... It has nothing to do with how the team is doing, but more that I honestly just don't have the energy to build my life around Habs games - especially since my daughter was born last May. Come playoffs, however, I usually never miss a game. Actually, come playoffs, I watch almost any game that's on at any point between any two teams. Playoff hockey is just too good to miss, especially once the second round starts.

Do you prefer to watch with guys? with girls? why?
My two favourite people to watch games with are my dad and my wife (and now I guess we can add my daughter to that list). I don't really have a preference other than that. It's fun to watch with people who understand and love the game, and also people who don't know anything about the game and ask questions. It's my pleasure to answer questions as long as the person asking them actually cares about the answers. I despise when people ask questions and don't listen to the answers. It's even worse when they ask the same question two minutes later. That drives me nuts. 

Do you have any pre-game rituals or in game superstitions?
Haha, no. I'm not 12 years old anymore.

What's the best game you ever went to? what do you remember about it?
The best game I ever saw live was Game 6 of the Montreal-Pittsburgh series a couple of years ago when the Canadiens went on that ridiculous run to the conference finals. What a crazy energy in that stadium. The best moment around the game I've ever experienced, however, was when Saku Koivu came back from his cancer treatments. It was hard not to get emotional when he skated out before the game and took a bow to the crowd. The way he was treated in Montreal in later years was just despicable. I'm very cynical about pro athletes in general - this guy was the closest thing to a sports hero Montreal has seen in many, many years. Not because he was the best player, but because of the way he carried himself and represented our city.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories that are somehow related to the Habs?
I've watched hundreds and hundreds of games since I was a little kid and been to probably over 100 at the Forum and Bell Centre - there are a lot of stories. My favourite hockey story, however, isn't directly Habs-related, however. My favourite story is the mission my wife, Johanna, and I, set out on a few years ago: Jo is as big a hockey/Canadiens fan as I am, so we decided to make it our goal to visit every NHL arena. There's no timeline or plan, necessarily, just a goal to see all 30 arenas. By the time we're done, I'm sure more than a few teams will have moved, folded, or been added to the NHL, so it'll likely be well over 30 arenas. 

So far, we've been to the Bankatlantic Center in Florida, the Prudential Center in New Jersey, the Saddledome in Calgary, the TD Garden in Boston, and of course, the Bell Centre, here in Montreal. We haven't been able to see the Canadiens at any of these places, except for here. We'd like to see the Habs on the road, but we're not that picky for the purposes of this adventure.

The other really cool thing we did was see the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field - yeah, the game in which Sidney Crosby's career might have been ruined by a VERY dirty and very illegal hit to the head that, of course, was not penalized. That was a very cool experience.

What's wrong with the current edition of the Habs?
I'm usually not one of those fans that gets into the nitty-gritty of what's wrong and who should be traded/fired/etc. I worked for the Montreal Alouettes for 7.5 years and I learned that management simply knows things that we as fans do not, so a large part of being a fan has to be to trust management. That said, anyone with eyes can see that the Canadiens are a total disaster these days because of terrible drafting, inept management, and just an overall lack of direction. George Gillett and his crew did a pretty good job of righting the ship right up, but once the whole scenario of Gillett selling to the Molson family, Bob Gainey resigning, and Pierre Gauthier and Jacques Martin being appointed as GM and coach, respectively, the whole thing seemed to just blow up.

Molson looks totally unprepared as an owner, and as the Alouettes have shown over the last almost two decades, success starts with good ownership. I'm not saying Geoff Molson is a bad owner and won't come around, but right now, it's all about reaction and crisis management instead of proactive team-building. Look at Detroit - have you ever seen Mike Ilitch, Ken Holland, or Mike Babcock look panicked? Look at the Boston Bruins - Jeremy Jacobs put Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli in place; Chiarelli hired Claude Julien, and they are now the model of stability. When someone messes with any Bruin, it seems like the entire organization is on the ice punching the offender in the face together.

When something goes wrong in Montreal, it's every-man-for-himself.

This was epitomized by the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident late last season. If it had been the other way around - say Hal Gill mashing Patrice Bergeron into the glass, Milan Lucic would have jumped onto the ice and broken Gill's head open. The Canadiens' response was to cry about it to the media after the game and the whole thing became just absurd.

The Canadiens are total pushovers, and that starts with the total lack of character they've shown at the management level from ownership down to the bench. Molson's not going anywhere, but hopefully he sees that he needs to completely clean house - starting with himself as team president. Be the owner and put people in place to manage the team. That's a good place to start. I could always pass him Mr. Wetenhall's phone number if he wants some advice.

If you were General Manager Pierre Gauthier would you be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline?
Geoff Molson should be ordering Pierre Gauthier not to do anything. He's a lame-duck GM whose every move is designed to save his job, not make the team better. If Gauthier is still the GM on deadline day, the answer is neither. It's nonsense to think the Canadiens are in any position to buy.Nobody - this team is not in a position to trade away the little talent it has both at the NHL and AHL levels. If you have to make any moves, then get draft picks. Everyone but PK Subban and Carey Price is expendable. If you think the Canadiens should trade Subban or Price, you're an idiot. 

For more from Noah Sidel, follow him on Twitter @NoahSidel

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