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.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

HABS-TOWN: "I'm no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens"

Many of you, like me, may remember Ben Raby from his time in Montreal. He worked at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) for four years with the likes of Mitch Melnick and PJ Stock. He left for Washington D.C. shortly after completing a Master's degree at Syracuse University. He still makes occasional appearances on TSN 990, most recently this week with Conor McKenna on "Melnick in the afternoon".

Ben Raby is a man of many hats in the sport world. I've had the pleasure of knowing him for the better part of a decade. He was a pretty good ball hockey player, has knowledge on a multitude of sports and my own mother confused a picture of him as me - so he must be a pretty good looking guy.

While Ben has moved on to another locale, he is still a Montrealer born and bred, the Habs were an important part of his growing up, and to me that makes him an interesting member of HABS-TOWN.

Many readers may remember you from your time at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) here in Montreal, were you always into sports, or was reporting your first love? 
I think my goal of becoming a sports reporter began when I was still a fetus. It was something I was always interested in as a kid and the interest only grew as I went through high school and university.

Somewhere (hopefully far away) are cassettes and video tapes of simulated sports shows I made from my bedroom when I was between six and ten years old. I also used to put together sports magazines and newspapers with my own writings during that time.  Those are now stored away in boxes and likely won’t be seen again for a very long time… but they were fun to sift through when I last saw them in 2007.
I was just a sports media junkie from a very young age- watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays and calling Mitch Garber’s CIQC radio show on Sunday nights as nine-year-old with a high voice.

On a serious note, I also had a role model for a career in media with my uncle Jason Moscovitz having worked as a political reporter on the CBC for 29 years. He remains a mentor of mine and an honest reviewer of my work.

For those who don't know what are you up to these days?
I left Montreal in 2007 to pursue a Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University. The degree from an American university offered me the opportunity to work in the U.S. and I’ve done so since 2009 in Washington, D.C.

I wear a few different hats in D.C. working as both a broadcaster and writer. I’ve covered the Washington Capitals for the last three years and am part of the broadcast team on the radio side where I host the pregame, postgame and intermission shows. I also cover the Caps as a correspondent for NHL.com and with Comcast Sportsnet in DC and with a few different local radio stations.

When there are no conflicts with the Capitals, I work on the radio broadcasts for the American University and George Washington University’s Men’s Basketball teams and starting with this upcoming season, I’ll also be part of the radio broadcast team for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

During the hockey and basketball offseason, I work as a sports anchor with WTOP Radio in DC covering all local teams including the Washington Nationals and Redskins. 

Does that make it difficult to still be a Habs fan? 
It may sound sacrilege to say I’m no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens but I’m in a different situation living in a different city and covering another NHL team for a living.

When Montreal kids go on to play in the NHL, they may have a soft spot for the Canadiens and look forward to the games against Montreal but their priority is always the team they play for and their upcoming opponents. That’s the way I have viewed things while I’ve been covering the Caps.

If for example, the Caps have an upcoming game against Florida and the Panthers are on the NHL Package in my apartment, but the Habs are also on TV that night, chances are good that I’ll be watching the Florida game in preparation for our broadcast. I really don’t even think twice about it.

There has also been a lot of turnover since I last called Montreal home and followed the Canadiens regularly. I think Andrei Markov and now Francis Bouillon are the only remaining players that were regulars with the team when I last lived in Montreal in 2007. I’ve never really had any allegiance to the current group of players.

That said- the soft spot for the franchise and the history is always there. Just don’t expect me to worry too much when the team hits a rough patch in their schedule next season.
What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I’m not sure if there was any one specific thing that got me into hockey and the Canadiens. It was probably just a combination of watching Hockey Night in Canada and going to games at the Montreal Forum with my father.

I also enjoyed collecting the old Panini stickers and hockey cards as a kid and when I was five or six years old, my grandfather got me the complete set of Canadiens player figurines from Provigo- a set that I still have today… somewhere.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
I don’t remember when exactly I saw my first Canadiens game, but it had to have been sometime in the late 1980s when I was four or five years old.

Apparently I was confused when the game started because there was no play-by-play announcer like all those games I had watched on TV. I’ve been told that I then took it upon myself to do the play-by-play from my seat, causing those around us to wonder what the heck this kid was doing. Guess it was a sign of things to come.

My father introduced me to the Montreal Forum when I was a little guy. I also remember my cousin Ben Raby taking me to see Wayne Gretzky and the L.A. Kings when I was five or six. 

Do you really have a cousin with the exact same name as you?
Yes. Yes I do. He's a doctor.
Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
Russ Courtnall was among my favorite players when I was still a little guy. He was a goal scorer with plenty of speed- was just fun to watch. I used to always request jersey #6 in my house leagues because it’s the number that Courtnall wore in Montreal.

Shortly after he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Brian Bellows, I got a custom made Stars sweater with his #26 on the back (they didn’t exactly have those hanging on the racks in Montreal).
I also liked Chris Chelios which was more a result of his being my older sister’s favorite player. Wearing a Chelios jersey at the Bell Centre in the early 2000s always garnered plenty of reactions. 

More recently Saku Koivu was another favorite of mine and his name is one of the few that I still look for in the box-scores. He was a gamer in Montreal. Captained the team during the worst decade in franchise history and he put up with so much nonsense in the media. I’ll always remember his comeback in 2002 and his going up against Boston’s Joe Thornton in the 2002 and 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I was actually at the game in Dec. 1996 against the Chicago Blackhawks when Koivu suffered a serious knee injury. He was the NHL’s leading scorer at the time with 38 points in 30 games, but after the injury he never produced points at that rate again.

Is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate? 
I don’t think it’s too difficult to turn the “fan” off when appropriate. Selfishly speaking, you usually want to see the teams you cover do well because it’s usually good for business (more people tuning in or reading your coverage), but that doesn’t mean you need to cheer in the press box or forget that you have a job to do.

When you deal with the players you cover regularly you develop a relationship that differs from a fan-athlete relationship. It’s a professional relationship that may also allow for a casual conversation when time permits, but I’ll put it this way- reporters can’t talk to players the way fans may talk about the team on a call-in radio show.

The best example I can give of tossing away the fanhood is when you’re working on deadline. When writing a story on a tight deadline the last thing a reporter needs is an overtime finish or a crazy late-game comeback. In those situations, regardless of whether “your” team is leading, sometimes you just want the game to end quickly regardless of who comes out on top. It makes life as a reporter a whole lot easier.

What's the best hockey game you attended? what do you remember about it?
Some of the best hockey games I attended were the first few times the Colorado Avalanche visited the Molson Centre in the late 1990s. At the time the Avalanche were one of the best teams in the NHL, they were still only a couple of years removed from Quebec City (brining out plenty of Nordiques jerseys to the arena), and their goalie Patrick Roy had a little bit of history in Montreal. The atmosphere at those games was always special.

I’ll also always remember attending the final game at the Montreal Forum on March 11, 1996. The Canadiens beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 and the postgame ceremonies included an eight minute standing ovation for Maurice Richard.

A couple non-hockey questions, you moved to DC right around the same time as the Expos, now you work for the team, does that make it that much easier to be a Nationals fan, or do you still feel the pain of the Expos loss? 
The Expos were my favorite team growing up so I’ll always have a soft spot for the team’s history in Montreal and the memories of seeing some great players at Olympic Stadium (say what you want, but I maintain that it had to have been one of the most under-rated fan experiences in all of baseball).

That said, this is my fifth summer in D.C., and having covered the Nationals in some capacity since 2008, I have gotten to know the folks who work with the club, I have followed the growth of the team and I have seen them evolve into a pennant contender. It’s been a great ride which should only get better.

I do acknowledge the unique situation I’m in. I understand that most Expos fans don’t care about the Nationals, just as most Washington baseball fans don’t care about what the franchise did while in Montreal. 
The Nationals themselves (perhaps under orders from MLB) do a very good job of acknowledging the Expos past. Any time a franchise record is broken for example, you’ll often hear a reference to a Montreal Expo. Whenever the Nats begin a home stand, the press notes will always include the club’s all time record (dating back to 1969) versus the upcoming opponents.

I would say that in each game broadcast, there are least three or four references to the Expos. On the TV side, former Expos outfielder FP Santangelo is the color analyst, so many of his anecdotes or references come from his time with Montreal.

It was also special in 2010 when the Nats honored Andre Dawson and Gary Carter by including them on the team’s ring of honor at Nationals Park. The Nats wore the tri-colored Expos hats during batting practice that day and the players then had to sign the hats for charitable auction purposes.

Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond (third-round pick by Montreal in 2004) and Drew Storen (an Expos batboy in the late 1990s in St. Louis) weren’t happy about having to give up the hats and apparently went out and bought their own Expos hats after the fact.

The point is- the Expos actually have a bigger presence in D.C. then some may realize. 

Before I let you go, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you - have you gotten around to seeing The Godfather or Goodfellas yet?

I have in fact gotten around to seeing the Godfather and Good Fellas, and the latter is actually among my all-time favorite movies. 

The origin to this question dates back to 2006 when I was working with Mitch Melnick and it was discovered in an on-air conversation that I have seen very few must-see movies.
I think I was given a list of ten classics that I was instructed to watch… I only wound up watching four of them- Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather and Good Fellas- but I’m forever grateful that they were brought to my attention.

I still have never seen the Wizard of Oz. 

For more from Ben Raby, follow him on twitter: @BenRaby31
or read his articles at CSN Washington.com

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Welcome (back) to Montreal: Francis Bouillon

Earlier this month we started looking at new Habs GM Marc Bergevin's work on Canada day 2012. We discussed free-agent prize Brandon Prust.

Bergevin also brought in Colby Armstrong, and brought back Francis Bouillon. There are many commonalities among the three players - the main being that they are hard workers who will bleed for the logo on their jersey. In the case of Bouillon and Armstrong however, they also have familiarity with Head Coach Michel Therrien.

Bringing Armstrong and Bouillon in to the Habs dressing room cements that the new relationship being forged between Head Coach and General Manager is one built on strong communication - both in the Press Box and in the dressing room.

The history between Bouillon and Therrien is long and strong. They first worked together in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. From 1992-1995 Therrien coached the rugged defenseman for 3 seasons with the Laval Titan before both moved to the Granby Predateurs for the 1995/1996 season. Therrien coached that Granby Predateurs team to it's first Memorial Cup victory in 25 years. As Captain of the team, Bouillon was the first player to parade around the Memorial Cup.

When Michel Therrien took over as Head Coach of the Canadiens (the first time) in November 2000, he was instrumental in getting Bouillon his first taste of NHL action. Bouillon played 74 games that season. 

In a 2005 interview with the Montral Gazette's Stu Cowan, Therrien (then coaching the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) said that his one big regret in leaving Montreal was "that I was not able to coach Francis Bouillon (more) when I was there.”

Bouillon is a hard working defensive defenseman. Last season with Nashville, he threw 103 hits in 66 games. Bouillon will always give you everything he has. "It was the biggest disappointment of my career to leave the Canadiens. It happened a little weirdly, but I do not blame anyone today and I'm looking towards the future" Bouillon told RDS after news of his signing broke. He received a 1 year, $1.5 million dollar contract from the Habs. 

When asked about reuniting with Michel Therrien, Bouillon was very candid, "Michel and I've had some great moments together during my career. I was very happy with his re-hiring by the Canadiens and I am very excited to return to his team."

"It's going to be team first," he said. "He's going to give a lot to the guys who work their ass off. He doesn't like the lazy guys or the guys who think they have good skill and they don't have to work. He like the rough game, and if you don't play rough or don't show up and want to win, he's going to play somebody else."

"He's pretty intense in everything he does....he wants to win," Bouillon added. "He was my pick (for Habs coach). He's got the character, and I think right now what they need to bring that team back on the right track  is  a coach who has character and who's going to put all the boys together and believe in his team."

The last time Bouillon played in Montreal was during the playoffs of the disastrous Centennial Season. Bouillon came back early from injury, didn't look great, and wasn't re-signed in the off-season.

Unless something has changed since he was last in Montreal, I see Bouillon as a capable bottom pairing defenseman. Probably a 6/7 on most teams, who may play more minutes with Montreal (if he's healthy) due to his work ethic and familiarity with the coach.

Admittedly, I have only seen Bouillon play a few games since leaving Montreal in 2009 so I reached out to some people who have seen much of "Le Pettite Geurrier" during his time in Nashville.

Amanda DiPaolo is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University - but her true passion lies in Hockey. DiPaolo runs Inside Smashville.com - a Nashville Predators blog, similar to the Breakdown. Inside Smashville is a great resource for reading Amanada's take on all things Predators.

In speaking with Amanda, I discovered that like the coach Amanda has a history with "The Cube" (as he was affectionately known in Nashville). "Since (Bouillon) spent most of his time in Montreal, I doubt there is anything that fans in Montreal don't know... and of course since coming to Nashville already a seasoned veteran, I don't think his style evolved any."

"I used to live in Fredericton, New Brunswick and so I've been familiar with Bouillon from his American Hockey League days!"

DiPaolo also spoke fondly of Bouillon's hard work, team play and leadership. "As fans in Montreal must know, Bouillon is not only an excellent defensive defenseman who is tough on the ice, but he is a real team player off the ice. During Nashville's recent playoff run, defenseman Kevin Klein started a trend in the locker room. He cut his hair into a mohawk. Other players followed suit, including former Habs Hal Gill and Bouillon. But the veteran defenseman who has recently rejoined the Canadiens took it one step further, Bouillon's young boys also started sporting mohawks in support of their dad."

Charlie Saunier hosts the Prednecknation  Radio show on prednecknation.com and has been covering the Nashville Predators for various outlets for over a decade. I went a little more in depth with Charlie on Bouillon starting with his health.

"Francis Bouillon recovered nicely from the injury he had when he first joined the Preds & stayed healthy over his tenure in Nashville, except for a concussion that cost him the end of the 2010-2011 season. While out during that stretch, he was missed quite a bit."

Bouillon, like in Montreal, was never a flashy player just a blue collar worker who "he answered the bell nightly and gave it his all every shift."

I asked Saunier if anything stuck out in particular about Bouillon during his tenure in Music city. "He never took a minute of his ice time for granted. He played so much bigger than his size and was willing to play the "Predator" way as Head Coach Barrt Trotz loves to say. He hit, fought, and chipped in on offense when he could. His defense was solid and made it very easy for his partners to take more offensive risks."

"He never dominated the stat sheet or made headlines, but was solid every time he came over the boards."

Saunier expanded that much like in Montreal Bouillion was noticed for what he brings to the table.
"You would hear a good bit of chatter about him throughout the stands. The Predator way is a huge thing here and when Bouillon bought in right away, it was easy to recognize and appreciate."

Hard worker. Willing to fight for teammates. Perfect team guy. Sounds like a good fit.

Saunier was puzzled as well why Nashville General Manager David Poile made no attempt to keep Bouillon - a popular figure in Nashville with the team. "This is an odd one for sure. Bouillon was a solid 2nd pair D-man and very affordable at this point in his career. With his level of experience, it was expected he would be brought back, but that was not to be and no word has been given by GM Poile as to why a contract was not offered. In my opinion, it was a depth issue on the prospect side of the ledger. Roman Josi had a great rookie campaign and is expected to make a run at the 1st pair with Shea Weber this season. Ryan Ellis is also expected to make the roster this season and could be a 3rd pair guy with Hal Gill and a Power Play specialist. Jon Blum spent much of last year in the AHL, but is expected to be back with Preds this year and if he's back to his form of 2 seasons ago, he will fill that 2nd D-pair slot with Kevin Klein. I know GM Poile has wanted these prospects to take over and it seems as if they will have the chance this training camp. Even with Ryan Suter leaving, the D-corps is still quite stocked."

Francis Bouillon typifies a depth defenseman. He'll put his hard hat and working boots on before every shift of every game and dig in for a long night's work. He's the type of gritty player Michel Therrien loves to have, he's the kind of guy teammates love, and he's the kind of guy who will bleed for the  logo in the front, not the name on the back.

Welcome back to Montreal Francis Bouillon.

For more from Stu Cowan, read him in the Montreal Gazette and follow him on Twitter @StuCowan1

For more from Amanda DiPaolo, read her on Inside Smashville.com and follow her on Twitter @adpreds

For more from Charlie Saunier tune in to the Prednecknation Radio show  and follow him on Twitter @crazycharlie615

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

HABS-TOWN: "Pat Burns got knocked out cold by a frozen Turkey!"

I had the privilege many years ago of running my own roller hockey league. The league was a lot of fun for those who played in it. I was sixteen years old at the time, and that may have been a big part of the reason that I and the league garnered about 14 minutes of fame.

The Montreal Gazette wrote a story on us, the Suburban wrote about me, and CF-CF 12 sent a "Pulse" news reporter to cover us - Pat Caporali. The whole thing was a pretty neat experience for the players in the league. "Hey, we're gonna be on TV! - and they sent a gorgeous reporter to cover us!". We were, after all teenagers, so clearly Pat's beauty was on the minds of many.

I'm no longer 16 years old, and while Pat still has that same beauty, I know she clearly did not get to where she is as result of those looks. Pat's smart, funny, a good writer, has great instincts for story - and most importantly she knows her sports. There certainly are some female reporters who are given a job in sports based on looks (or in some cases are prompted to act as though they are) - but that is not Pat.

Some of you may remember Pat from her time on CFCF-12 (now CTV Montreal)'s newscasts, or you may remember her from her time on Mitch Melnick's CIQC drive show, or from her time working the Habs radio broadcasts for CJAD.

Pat spent a decade working the Montreal Sports scene on radio & TV - and a huge chunk of that time was devoted to covering the Habs, making her a certifiable expert on the subject and an integral part of HABS TOWN.

Many readers may remember you from your time with CTV Pulse news or working on Mitch Melnick's show in the mid-90's. Were you always into sports? or was reporting your first love?
I definitely developed love for sport early childhood. I spent lots of time with my dad watching “Wild World of Sports”, boxing (Muhammad Ali & Sugar Ray) and Formula 1 racing on Sundays, along with a LOT of late school nights watching hockey playoffs games in the late 70s.  I spent ANY allowance on buying hockey cards. And even though I lived and breathed the Habs and HATED Boston, my secret prize possession was a Bobby Orr lunch box, which I still have! I NEVER took it to school for fear my support for the Habs would be questioned.

I TRIED to play sports as a kid but I was kind of REALLY small and a “girl” so I gravitated to more typical figure skating, gymnastics and dance. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to play baseball or hockey with the boys. At most I’d be relegated as the token outfielder behind the fence or the “CAR!” lookout for hockey street games.

By high school I was playing (and winning some banners) in field hockey, volleyball and competed in track and field (javelin was my specialty). In college, I was weight training and even set records in my class for dead lift and squat.

I didn’t start playing hockey until I went to University. I sucked. BIG TIME. I could skate really well, but put equipment on me, give me the puck and I was a mess. I couldn’t stand to be bad at anything and I REALLY wanted to play, so I took some clinics with the Concordia Women’s hockey team and Olympian France St. Louis. I improved enough to be able to play in a charity game with my employer CJAD/Mix 96 against NHL legends at Verdun Auditorium. I was the only girl on the ice, got plenty of ice time, and played against Steve Shutt, Henri Richard, Yvon Lambert and others. It was pretty awesome.

While I initially had plans and grades to become a veterinarian, going into sports media was a natural but almost accidental progression. I always had a love for good stories and strong appreciation for sports journalism. I really admired good writers’ or broadcasters’ ability to really tell the story in a way that makes you believe in or want to cheer for an unknown athlete or team, tell the story/truth no one knows, or learn something new. I hold sports journalism in very high regard. I feel very lucky to have grown up with and worked with some of the very best in the business. 

That's quite the accomplishment to go from not playing hockey at all, to being able to skate with varsity players. Do you ever play anymore?
It's been WAY too long since I played last. I still play outside on the ice in winter but without equipment or skates. I still have all my equipment and don't foresee giving it up. :)

What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
It was the 70s, I’m Canadian and I grew up in Montreal. Everyone lived and breathed the Habs. Watching “Hockey Night in Canada” on CBC on a black and white 13” TV was the way my Dad and I bonded. Guy, Shutty, Big Bird, Dryden, Gainey, Dougie, Serge, Mario, Houle, Yvon, Engblom, Lapointe… I knew them all, memorized their numbers and stats. I cheered them all on. I never imagined that a little over a decade later I’d be working with most of them.

Starting in 1991, I was the on site producer and operator for the Montreal Canadiens broadcasts on CJAD radio from the Montreal Forum with Dick Irvin and Steve Shutt, and in following years, Pete Mahavolich and Ron Francis. It was then that I began working with Mitch Melnick as the on site producer for various pre and post game sports shows, and eventually became his producer and sports reporter covering the Habs and other sports.

I eventually moved to CFCF TV (now CTV Montreal) where I was the cubby reporter among veteran broadcasters Ron Reusch, Randy Tieman, Brian Wilde and Al Bishop. I was charged with focusing on more local and amateur sports, soccer, boxing and motorsports, with only the occasional Habs feature story.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
It was a regular season game, Boston Bruins at the Montreal Forum with my dad. I’m fuzzy on what year it was exactly, or who won (somewhere between 1979-1981) He had been given tickets at work by a season ticket holder at the last minute. I was SO excited to be sitting in the famous red seats! I remember how nice the ladies in the red uniforms were who escorted us to our seats and held vigil over us like flight attendants. I remember the feel of the wood seats and the smell of the hot dogs/chien chaud. It was overwhelming and I felt like I was sitting on hallowed ground.

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever? If so, whom, and why?
I have had a soft spot for a few players over the years. The list includes goaltender Steve Penny for his amazing performance in the 1984 playoffs and then unfairly having his name left off the Stanley Cup in 1986 even though he qualified with an injury exemption. The team still gave him a ring and included him in the team photo.

Brian Skrudland is definitely on my list for never giving up on playing professionally even after he was never drafted, and earning a spot with the Canadiens as a free agent. Over the years I was inspired by his leadership, sportsmanship and competitiveness but mostly for living up to my image of him when I eventually met him. He was and still is unbelievably kind, a fabulous family man, is always smiling, and made you feel like a friend from the moment you met him. 

I had a great relationship with former coach Pat Burns which I feel like I can qualify as a friendship. Most of the fun and laughs we had were over stories told when the microphones were off. My favorite Pat Burns story was from when he worked as a police officer. He was called to a domestic dispute between a couple in their kitchen and got knocked out COLD when he was inadvertently hit in the head by a frozen turkey thrown towards the husband by the angry wife. All the while, his partner could barely contain the tears and laughter when he called for backup and an ambulance.

Lyle Odelein was the first player I officially interviewed for radio sound bites in the Forum locker room at a time where there were few women reporters and very little privacy for players to shower and change. We had met many times on the sports show and got along well, but on this occasion he was particularly courteous, friendly and patient. He never gave me the usual “gave it 110%” spiel. He even played “big brother” by often staying in locker room to make sure I got all the players and interviews I needed before leaving.

However, I have to say that Jean Beliveau is about the classiest person I have ever met and had the privilege of interviewing. He is the absolute definition of a gentleman. 

Did the couple settle their dispute & eat the Turkey at least?
Pretty sure the turkey never got cooked. But no arrests were made.

For those who don't know what are you up to these days?
After my years in the media in Montreal, I went to the dark side. I joined the world of PR. I kid. Sort of. I joined the Canadian Player’s racing team in 2000 with driver Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, then won a Championship in 2003 with Paul Tracy. I have worked with Target Chip Ganassi, Vision Racing and a short stint with the FAZZT race team. I’ve worked with more than 30 amazing world-class racecar drivers, in various high level series, over a 12-year span, and it has been quite a wild ride.

The last few years have been very challenging ones in IndyCar for a variety of reasons that include the economy. I stepped away from racing for the past year or so, returned to Montreal and have been busy with freelance work in the PR, communications and social media field, but will likely be back in the sports or motorsports world one way or another.

Do you still watch hockey?
When I left media to work in motorsports in 2000, I watched hockey less often due to my schedule and partly because of the clutch + grab /”dump the puck” style of play at the time. The 2004-2005 lockout definitely hurt my interest level.

During that time and up until recently, I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana while I worked in motorsports. I had access to St. Louis and Columbus games and the occasional Chicago ones on TV but the US broadcasts just CANNOT compare to “Hockey Night in Canada”. I’d often go to local hockey games to watch Indiana Ice (USHL) and even ran into Chris Chelios a few years ago who was in town to see his son Dean (and later Jake) play against them.

Indy actually has some good hockey history. Championship banners still hang in the Coliseum at the Indiana Fairgrounds won by the Indiana Racers (WHA) for whom Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier played. Former Canadian coach Jacques Demers also coached the team.

I would often run into NHL players at various IndyCar events in NHL cities. Vincent LeCavalier would come to races in Saint Petersburg, FL and meet the Canadian drivers I worked with. I actually often saw Montreal Canadiens former player and recently named Player Development Coach, Patrice Brisebois, as he is not only a big race fan but has been behind the wheel of a few stock cars himself.

I started watching hockey again in 2010 because my roommate in Indy was a Vancouver native, diehard Canucks fan and bought the NHL package for our TV viewing needs. I’ve keep closer tabs on hockey ever since but now that I am back in Montreal, as long as the season starts on time, I might invest more of my time watching the Habs alongside my 9 year nephew (who boasts a wardrobe that is 70% Canadiens gear, 8% Sydney Crosby t-shirts and jersey, 2 % IndyCar racing and the final 20% dedicated to Star Wars.)

I was 12 when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in '93. I have some memories of it, but I'll never forget some of the players. I even wear #11 on my back when I play sports because of Capt.Kirk "is work" Muller. Who do you think your nephew has to look up to on the team now?
I did forget to mention that while my nephew's closet contains 70% Habs gear... he lives in Toronto and his favorite book is Roch Carrier "The sweater". I'd say Subban tops that list at the moment. His favorite player however is Sidney Crosby, especially for his role with Team Canada at the Olympics. I'll be introducing him to the movie "Slapshot" soon enough.

Do you find it difficult to be a hockey fan at this point? Or is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate?
I definitely have a tough time being just a fan. I still find it difficult to sit in the stands at a hockey game or at a racetrack without trying to analyze like a reporter instead of just sitting back and enjoying it casually. I seem to have developed an all or nothing attitude about it. I either want to know about EVERYTHING going on, or nothing at all. Now that I don’t cover it as a reporter, I never feel like I’m getting the whole story.  Sometimes I get the urge to call up some of my media friends and say: “Ok. Seriously. What’s the REAL story.”

I have also come to realize that I have a passion for the sport of Hockey but I don’t have the sense of connection to a team or players that I had as a kid. I feel like the human part of the story is getting lost and that it’s become more about numbers, stats and salaries. I’m not sure I like that at all.

It sounds like you're expecting your nephew to turn you into a fan again - is that something you're actually hoping will happen?
I would be lying if I said I didn't wish for that a little. :)

You talked about working in the world of IndyCar racing, how was that the same or different from Sports reporting?
They both involve a lot of travel and story telling. My role in IndyCar was to help get the story of the team and drivers out to the media, attract more fans in order to benefit sponsors and the team.

In a way, it wasn’t so far off what I was doing as a reporter except that I was now on the inside trying to get the story out.  I was now part of a team rather than a completely unbiased observer. Having said that, while I’m fiercely competitive and loyal to a team, I still tend to abide by the “no cheering in the press box” rule that I lived by for so many years as a reporter. It gives me the ability to do the job and tell the story from a somewhat more neutral position, and in a way that should be helpful to media, sponsor and fans. But it was great to be able to share my insider’s view with them as well.

Racing, like hockey is still very much a team sport but racecar drivers are equivalent to goalies in hockey or pitchers in baseball or quarterbacks in football. They are elite athletes. While, they can’t do it with out a strong team around them, they are a still a different breed. They think differently. They see things differently. They are hyper competitive. They react differently and are just “off” enough to be able to do what they do VERY well. And that makes for some very good stories to tell.

There has been a definite evolution in “storytelling” or sports reporting this past decade, especially with the appearance of social media. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of getting their stories out in new and unique ways.

Do you ever miss sports reporting or give any thought about getting back into it?
You bet I do. All the time. But the opportunity hasn't quite presented itself.

What's the best hockey game you attended? What do you remember about it?
Hard to pick just one but I’d say every Canadiens game in the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs would be on the list, particularly the overtime games. The most memorable is a toss up between the LA Kings game 2 with the Marty McSorley illegal stick incident and the final Game 5 Stanley Cup win in Montreal and the ensuing mayhem that followed.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories that are somehow related to the Habs?
Too many to recount but they often come up over beers at Hurley’s Pub or L’ile Noire in Montreal with some of the media that covered the team over those same years.

I’d say the oddest ‘story’ was the 1993 broadcast I was involved with as the on-site producer for the “live” RADIO broadcast from the chapel at Concordia University in Montreal of famous broadcaster Danny Gallivan’s funeral. It even had live play-by-play commentary of the service and guest lineup by Habs broadcaster Dick Irvin. That was just… very awkward.

In 2002, I brought IndyCar drivers and Montreal natives Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani to the Bell Center for a Canadiens game. I escorted them to do interviews between periods and meet the players after the game. Both drivers would later laugh that I got more attention that day than they did, because of all the people (media, ushers, players, etc) that would stop us just to say hello and chat with me rather than them.

There are quite a few Canadians (and hockey fans) that work in IndyCar and one particularly fun memory happened at Milwaukee Mile racetrack some years ago. Following a storm, as we waited for the track to dry on a bitterly cold day, a mechanic pulled out some tuques, a dozen hockey sticks and a ball. A hockey game broke out right there in pit lane. 

Play By Play for a funeral sounds crazy. I have no recollection of that, but I do remember how packed the square was in front of the Cathedral the day of Rocket Richard's funeral. Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing that Hockey is treated like a religion in this town?
Passion is never a bad thing but sometimes it needs to be given a bit of direction or perspective. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone... Just like any set of beliefs or religions, it's all fun and games until someone gets suspended or there's a riot. Let me be clear though. "Hockey riots" have little to do with hockey or passion. The one and only exception to that rule is the very first one...  March 17, 1955... the only one that had any REAL moral and cultural implications in support of Habs player Maurice Richard and even that was less about hockey and more about civil rights and the start of the "Quiet Revolution".

I'm sure you must have some funny stories about some of the current faces of Montreal sports media that people might not know, care to share?
WAY too many to tell without risking someone getting upset with me.
There was the time Mitch Melnick and I called out one of the newscasters at the radio station for almost burping on air after eating/stealing hotdogs that were brought to us by a listener.
He denied it happened so we edited the "tape" to include a REALLY tremendous burp and replayed it on air as the "uncensored version".
We laughed so hard we couldn't pull it together for about 5 minutes live on the air. 

There there's the time that Terry Haig interviewed left handed baseball pitcher Steve Frey on Mitch Melnick's show while I was producing and working the board. His question to the pitcher was "So Steve, is it true that lefties have more stuff on their balls?" I completely lost it and was CRYING. Mitch and Terry had NO idea what the hell was wrong with me because I couldn't speak to explain. All I could do was replay the portion of the interview during commercial break. It ended up being a long break until we could compose ourselves.

I have a vague recollection of Brian Wilde doing a live hit prior to a hockey game where Edmonton was playing the "Blackcocks" that night. 
I also get the hiccups a lot. They are loud and obnoxious. I get them often when I am nervous or anxious about something. I once had them so loud and so long when I was working a Canadiens radio broadcast (as producer) that the play-by-play guy and Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dick Irvin, had to apologize to everyone listening nationally (Canada) for the odd noise you could hear over the crowd. We were inundated by calls from listeners offering suggestions on how to get rid of them. None of them worked. 

What do you think of the hiring of Marc Bergevin and his moves so far?
I think he has the most difficult and scrutinized job in hockey. I think any and every move he makes will be analyzed to death by the Montreal media and fans. I’m not sure anything he does will be meet with complete agreement. I’d say, in my opinion, so far so good but I think he’d better invest in some antacid and to be safe, put in an order for some thicker skin.

With Free agency still going on, what do you think are the Habs biggest needs? 
I think they need to keep P.K. Subban but I would hope the GM isn’t done shopping. The GM is there to always look at improving a team. Key to the equation is good leadership both on and behind the bench but chemistry can’t be overlooked. But I’m not sure what he needs on the ice can be bought right now.

What do you think is coming in the immediate future for Scott Gomez?  
There better be a lot of hard work and at the very least an equaling or surpassing of his 2011-12 goals total. That probably shouldn’t be too hard to do.

Will the 2012-2013 NHL season start on time?
It certainly better start on time because in this day and age, there isn’t a single sport, not even hockey in Canada, that can afford to lose any fans or their support. Do not take them for granted.

For more from Pat Caporali, follow her on Twitter @PCaporali