“A Montreal fan forgets good plays, the bad plays he remembers forever.” J.C. Tremblay
In hockey there is no fan more demanding, more critical, and louder in voicing their displeasure than a Montreal Canadiens fan. The demand put on the players and the management to succeed is immense. Some players are able to thrive in this pressure filled environment but for many it is this pressure that drives them out of Montreal.
This high level expectation has developed because of the team’s success from 1956 to 1979. In those twenty three years the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup an astonishing fifteen times. One of the aftereffects of this dynastic success is that every subsequent team is expected to win the Stanley Cup.
However, when that expectation is not met the players and management are forced to deal with the wrath of the disappointed fans. Every move is analyzed, then analyzed again, and eventually overanalyzed. Everybody is an expert, everyone could do the job better than the people hired by the Canadiens, and everyone knows exactly how to do it.
No player is safe from this scrutiny. In 1986 and 1993 Patrick Roy carried the Canadiens to their last two Stanley Cups. He was acknowledged as one of the top goaltenders in Canadiens and NHL history. He was the franchise player for the Canadiens when he was with the team. However, this success was a double edge sword for Roy. While he received much of the credit for the two Stanley Cup victories he also received the most criticism when the team did not win the Stanley Cup. Once Roy had taken the Canadiens to the championship twice it was expected of him every year. And even though he had been successful in the past there is always a sense of what have you done for me lately in Montreal.
Once the new season begins it seems that last season has been forgotten by Canadiens fans, and that the player has to prove himself all over again.
In his last game with the Canadiens, a little over two years after his greatest triumph (the 1993 Stanley Cup championship); Patrick Roy was booed off the ice by the Montreal fans after giving up nine goals to the Detroit Red Wings. All that he had accomplished with the team was temporarily forgotten as the fans let their frustrations boil over.
So what chance did Patrice Brisebois have with the Montreal fans?
Not much unfortunately.
Patrice Brisebois had the misfortune of joining the Canadiens at the wrong time. But during his first few years, he probably felt that he had stepped into an ideal situation.
The Canadiens team that Brisebois joined in 1991 was consistently one of the leagues top squads. After splitting time with the Canadiens and their minor league affiliate, Brisebois finally became a regular player in 1993 and was able to contribute to a Stanley Cup victory in his first full season.
But for Brisebois and the Canadiens that would be the watershed moment. Neither would ever advance past the second round of the playoffs in the years since.
And as the Canadiens began to fall further down the standings as the years went by, and eventually entered one of the darkest periods in team history, the fans became increasingly upset and for them Patrice Brisebois became the ideal target.
Brisebois, while talented, never seemed able to fulfill his initial promise. He became a solid contributor to the Canadiens but this was not enough for many of the team’s fans, who expected him to become a star.
Every time he touched the puck he was booed, every mistake become magnified, and there were some nights were it looked as if the pressure was beginning to take its toll on him.
And while Brisebois never lived up to the fans expectations of him he was quietly able to enjoy a solid career in Montreal that went largely unnoticed.
He is in the team’s top ten for defenseman in many categories, including games played, goals, assists, and points.
But to many Montreal fans he will always be known as “Breeze-By”, a player who upon his departure to Colorado two years ago, was not widely missed.
And in reading the general reaction of many to today’s news of his return to the team it seems that those hard feelings remain. There do not seem to be many supporters out there of this latest move by Canadiens general manger Bob Gainey.
However, if one puts aside their own personal feelings they will see this move for what it is a solid depth addition to the team.
Patrice Brisebois is not being asked to step in and be one of the team’s top defenseman. Instead what he is being asked to do is take on the role of fifth or sixth defenseman, playing maybe fifteen minutes a game and a little power play.
And all of this for the bargain basement price of $700,000 per season on a one year deal. To me this move makes sense, certainly more so than last year, when the Canadiens paid Janne Niinimaa $2.6 million to sit out half the games, and then barely touch the ice in the games he dressed.
Personally, I don’t see what the Canadiens have to lose in this deal. They are able to add some depth on defense, a veteran presence in the locker room, and a player who is well versed in playing in the pressure cooker of Montreal, all for a bargain basement price for one year.
It’s also worth noting the relationship that Brisebois has with Canadiens coach, Guy Carbonneau, and to a lesser extent the team’s assistant coach, Kirk Muller. Clearly both feel comfortable with Brisebois, the player and the man.
“Guy and I are still really good friends,” Brisebois revealed today. “He knows my game inside out and understands what I can bring to a team. He was my first captain, we won together and we enjoyed a lot of great times. Kirk is awesome guy, too. We all won the Stanley Cup as teammates in 1993. It’s going to be special to be all together again.”
But for me the one thing about this signing today that was most surprising is that Patrice Brisebois wants to come back to play for the Canadiens.
Obviously, the reason is not financial. Throughout his career Patrice Brisebois has made a significant amount of money, thanks to several million dollar contracts. Then it only stands to reason that he doesn’t desperately need the $700,000 that the Canadiens will pay him this year. And coming off his back injury and at 36 years of age it must have been tempting to consider retirement. After all he seems to be financially set and he has won a Stanley Cup ring.
When you add those reasons to the amount of abuse he has taken over the years, it does make you wonder why he would choose to come back to the Canadiens.
But in reading his comments today, I think the reasons for coming back to the Canadiens become a little clearer.
“This is an amazing day for me, what else can I say? I’m back with the team that drafted me and my family couldn’t be happier to be coming back to Montreal. I feel like a little kid. I even taped my sticks up yesterday I was so excited.”
“Once I found out the Canadiens were interested, I told my agent Don Meehan that I really wanted things to work out with Montreal,” said Brisebois, “there’s no better place to play in the NHL. Montreal is where it all happens.”
And as for his role for the team, “I don’t know how they’re going to use me but you know I’m going to give everything for [the Canadiens], my heart and soul. I always did that.”
As we’ve found out this off season some players spend the year proclaiming their love for Montreal, the fans, and their loyalty to the team, and then sell themselves to the highest bidder. But that’s not Patrice Brisebois.
Here’s a guy who despite all that has happened in the past has returned back to Montreal, not out of greed, or desperation, but because for him this is the only place to be.
And for that, this season he deserves our cheers.