Tuesday, 21 August 2012

HABS TOWN: "He’s in a tough spot with some of the terrible deals he inherited"

Conor McKenna was recently voted in an informal poll to have the best Twitter feed of any TSN 990 radio personality. While not one of the names or faces that are marketed the most, Conor's acerbic wit makes him a popular person amongst listeners of the station.

Conor is the host of the Habs' post-game show on TSN 990 and has been for years, prior to that he got his start at the station working on a daily Habs' report. His association both personally and professionally with the team goes back many years for someone of his age.

Like many in the media, Conor got his first introduction to the Montreal Canadiens as a fan and that transition from fan to professional is one of the things that makes him an integral part of the Montreal Canadiens Experience for many. Today, Conor pays a visit to HABS-TOWN to talk about his relationship with the Habs.


What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I'm from Montreal. When I was a kid it was easy to admire Patrick Roy and guys like Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Keane, Eric Desjardins and others. It's easy to admire a team that wins a Stanley Cup in the dramatic fashion the Habs did it in '93. I was ten years old when that happened and was already obsessed with the sport. Hockey was a part of life every day. When there was ice, I'd be playing in various leagues or at the outdoor rinks in Westmount and NDG. When there was none, I'd be playing ball hockey or roller hockey.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
My first Habs game was May 4th, 1993. My dad took me to game 2 of the Conference Semi-Finals. Montreal won the game 4-3 in OT, the same score they'd win every game in that series by. The Forum was a very different place than the Bell Centre. The standing room fans, the smoke and the people, many of whom were dressed up for the occasion (people don't really do that anymore). One aspect of the game that's been lost in the move to the Bell Centre is the on-ice sound. You could hear every stride, shot and hit at the Forum. That is, unless the crowd got going. When that happened, you couldn't hear yourself think. It was a far less gimmick-oriented crowd than the one we have now although I do love the Bell Centre. It's just different. 

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
Patrick Roy is my favorite Hab. I didn't get to see the greats of the past but I saw Roy. I saw him carry the team to a Cup. I've watched older games and obviously am aware of the greats, who are too many to name, but never having seen their greatness firsthand it's hard to claim them as favorites. More recently, I've had a lot of appreciation for the way Andrei Markov controlled a game when he was at his best. If he can find that game again, the Canadiens will be a vastly improved team this year. One of the things I've seen a lot of while covering the team is jersey retirements and Roy's was one of the most special.    

Where do you like to watch games?
I love watching games at the Bell Centre but honestly, I’ve seen so many there that I sometimes really just want to grab some beers and sit on a couch with my buddies and take it in. Also love watching at a pub like Hurley's or Ye Olde with friends. It’s funny how much you miss doing that once you stop.

Do you have any pre-game rituals or in game superstitions?
Absolutely zero. I am not the least bit superstitious.  

Do you find a difference in the media in-game experience at Bell Centre vs sitting in the seats?
It’s completely different. For starters, you have to pay for your hot dogs when in the seats. The media gallery also gives more of a bird’s eye view, which is nice, but completely different than the game experience of sitting in the reds or anywhere else for that matter. The electricity in the building does remain whether you’re there as a fan or a member of the media. 

Do you find it difficult to be fan at this point? Or is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate?
It’s not hard for me to avoid fandom. There are people in the press who get excited and wear their emotions on their sleeves but I was told right off the bat, by the likes of Andie Bennett, Mitch Melnick and PJ Stock that you never cheer in the pressbox. Never. Once you flip that switch, it’s hard to turn it back on.

What's the best game you ever went to? what do you remember about it?
My favorite live experience was May 10, 2010 game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-final with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins at the Bell Centre. A friend of mine wanted me to go with him, convinced that I was his “good luck charm” and the key to a Habs win. I called Rod Francis and got the night off (don’t think it was too hard to find someone to fill in for me). We sat about halfway up section 112, right across from the Habs bench, an unbelievable vantage point.
Fans remember this game well, Mike Cammalleri scored the first two Montreal goals and earned a standing ovation that lasted an entire TV timeout. Goosebumps. Jaroslav Halak put together what may have been his greatest performance, but the moment of the night was right before the 3rd period was set to start, with the score 3-2 for Montreal, Jean Beliveau emerged from the Habs tunnel to take up his customary seat behind the bench but stopped as he passed Glen Metropolit to offer some words of encouragement, clearly pretty pumped up himself. I’m not sure what he said, but the moment was captured by CBC cameras and made it into their incredible montage that closed out the playoffs that year. My seats gave me and my buddy the perfect vantage point for that spine-tingling moment. Maxim Lapierre later scored that ridiculous goal after exposing Alex Goligoski along the boards and sent the crowd into hysterics. As far as a sporting event experience goes, it would be hard to top those seats and that game. 

You're a noted fan of Game of Thrones, do you think that being named the Captain, Coach or GM of the Habs is like sitting on the Iron Throne?
I’m more a fan of the series of books than the TV show but I will say that being coach of the Habs isn’t completely unlike sitting the Iron Throne in the sense that people don’t tend to do it for very long, you have to be highborn (read: Francophone) to do it, and there are people constantly sniping at you and ready to seize on the slightest slip-up or mistake that you make. Unfortunately for the coach, he can’t mount people’s heads on spikes every time they piss him off. If he could, me and several of my colleagues would likely be a bit shorter. 

What do you think of the hiring of Marc Bergevin and his moves so far?
He’s done a good job. He’s in a tough spot with some of the terrible deals he inherited but I like the job he’s done so far. He’s identified core players and signed them to deals that appear to be fair to both sides. Hard to say how the hire of Michel Therrien will work out, but his track record with younger players is outstanding. The future already looks a lot better with Bergevin at the helm if only because he’s had the sense to surround himself with intelligent hockey people and seems to be willing to listen to them. My expectations for this season are not high. It will  take some time for this team to become a real contender but based on this year’s draft and the strength of next year’s draft class, I think the team will contend in the next three or four years. 

What do you think is coming in the immediate future for Scott Gomez?
It seems we’ll have to wait until a new CBA is reached before we know what will happen with him. I’ve long said that I won’t be shocked if he’s there when and if training camp opens.

To me there are 4 question mark contracts for the Habs: Andrei Markov, Scott Gomez, Rene Bourque  and Tomas Kaberle. All four had to perform to a certain level to earn their given contracts at some point in their career. None of them reached those standards last season.
Do you believe in all four cases it's a lost cause, or can any of them be viable NHL players?
For me, Kaberle and Gomez are lost.

In the case of Markov, I truly he believe he will have a bounce-back season. He's been in Montreal for the entire off-season for the first time in his career and should be in great shape for the season. Obviously if he re-aggravates the injury all bets are off. 

For Bourque I'm not optimistic but the fact is that he's still only 30 and not too far removed from being a successful NHL player. Maybe Michel Therrien can light a fire under the guy and get some production out of him. He has all the tools needed to be successful at this level. I'm not holding my breath here, but stranger things have happened.  

Will the the 2012-2013 NHL season start on time?
I will remain the optimist and say yes. The clock isn’t just ticking for them, I’ve got postgame shows I want to host! 

For more from Conor Mckenna, follow him on Twitter @McKennaConor 
Tune in to "Melnick in the afternoon" on TSN 990am for the rest of the week as Conor fills in for Mitch.

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