In our younger days we all thought we were going to make it to the NHL. There was never a doubt in any of our minds. Such is the naiveté of youth, where our dreams seem so much closer to our realities. In those early days, the task of making the NHL didn’t seem so daunting or that farfetched.
After all, since we thought about it, and constantly talked with our like minded friends about it, there was no way we couldn’t all succeed? We imagined having our own hockey cards, and practiced our poses in front of the mirror, because we were ready.
I remember as I got a little bit older I decided to take the leap and finally tried out for the all star team. Back then everyone played what was once called house league, but the really talented kids, the good hockey players played on the all star team. And not only were these kids special in our eyes, but even more important was the fact that they were given special treatment. The kids who were the all stars got to travel to all these cool places and stay in these cool hotels. They got to wear these cool jackets and had the nicest looking uniforms, especially when compared to the house league hand me downs that the rest of us wore. The kids who made the all star team were special; they even had their own names on the backs of their jerseys just like a real NHL hockey player. To be an all star meant having status, it meant being somebody, and to us it meant that you had a chance to make the NHL. Needless to say, it was where we all wanted to be.
The tryouts could be very intense, physically, and especially, mentally. The kids who were already all stars always felt threatened by the newcomers, and the threat manifested itself into a form of combat that while for the most part childish, was in many ways our first taste of the adult world. The newcomers were isolated and quite often belittled. There was a sense that these insurgents were ready to be on the team, ready to showcase their skills, while the ones who were already all stars, comfortable in their little kliqs, felt threatened by anything that challenged the status quo.
And then after all the sweat, all the sacrifice that day finally arrives, it is the day you’ve looked forward to forever it seems, the day in which the team is posted outside the coaches office. That list becomes the most important piece of paper in your life, in many ways it’s your ticket upward. You would give or do just about anything to just see a glimpse of your name on that list.
And when that moment arrives you stand there with all the other boys. That little huddle produces the widest range of emotions imaginable. From the sheer ecstasy of the boys who made it, to the devastation of those who didn’t. For those of us who were unsuccessful, it is a time of reevaluation, a time to take stock, a time to chart on alternate course.
But in the face of this setback we remained stoic. We never let anyone see our disappointment and how much it hurt. We accepted the decision, because we felt that we’d tried our best, and that in the end that was all that mattered.
Oddly enough, I’ve found myself pondering that stage of my life the last two days as I’ve pondered the fate of the Canadiens odd man out; Yann Danis.
When on Monday, the Canadiens released their set of training camp cuts I wasn’t surprised to see the name Yann Danis on the list. Any other result would have been shocking. Currently, the Canadiens goaltending situation is a three headed monster with the names Huet, Halak, and Price battling it out for the top job. That leaves Danis on the outside looking in.
So why should anybody care? The player attends training camp, doesn’t make the team, and is then sent down to the minors, where he’s played for Hamilton Bulldogs for the last three years. No big deal then.
But to me there’s more to the story than that. In this era of the overpriced, pampered athlete we tend to focus on those who are the most successful, we write about them constantly, we talk about them endlessly, and we eagerly watch their every move. What we don’t focus on are those fringe players, those players who appear so close to making the NHL, but for whom that goal remains an elusive one.
In the next few days there will be many stories written about the Habs goaltending battle, and rightfully so, it is a big story, with an outcome crucial to the team’s success. But, what about the player who didn’t make the cut? What about his future, to be so close and yet, so far away.
It was just a little over two years ago that Yann Danis opened up the season as the Canadiens back up goaltender to starter Jose Theodore. Danis was able to start six games at the start of the season before being sent down to the Canadiens farm team in Hamilton, when the newly acquired Cristobal Huet came off of injury to settle in as Montreal number two goalie.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of Danis’ brief stay with the Canadiens came on October 12th, 2005 in Atlanta when in his first ever NHL game he became only the third ever goaltender to record a shutout victory in his Montreal debut. Danis would go to post a 3-2 in his six games, with a very respectable 2.69 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage.
As of this writing these six games, these 312 minutes, are the only regular season professional action Yann Danis has seen in his four seasons in the Canadiens organization.
The main reason for this has been the surprisingly quick and superb play of the two men who have leapfrogged him on the Canadiens depth chart.
In his three years spent in Hamilton with the Bulldogs, Danis has been the team’s primary back stopper. However, it was only in the last year that Danis started to slide down the depth chart and out of the Canadiens plans.
After spending the majority of the first month on the bench, Danis’ backup in Hamilton, Jaroslav Halak played in eight games for the Bulldogs in November 2006, posting an unbelievable 0.82 goals against average to go along with a .972 save percentage, after stopping 208 saves on 214 shots. Halak was named the AHL’s player of the month and Danis soon found himself as the Bulldog’s second stringer.
In February 2007, Halak was rewarded for his stellar play and was called up to play for the Canadiens where he shone. Danis meanwhile, resumed his starter’s duties and readied for the AHL playoffs. However, in a virtual replay of what had happened in the regular season, Danis’ newest backup, the highly touted Carey Price, came in and led the Bulldogs to an unexpected AHL Championship, all the while garnering MVP honors along the way.
Suddenly Danis, found himself in fourth place on the Canadiens goaltending totem pole, and it has become a distant fourth. It must have been frustrating for him. Those six games in the NHL must seem like a lifetime ago to him. For a goaltender, it must be even tougher because the backup has the best view of each game. To sit there and see the future unfold in front of your very eyes, and for it not to be the way you envisioned it, must be an extremely empty feeling.
And for some the Yann Denis story ends there. With no chance of making the Canadiens, and with the prospect of spending another year watching from the bench in Hamilton, many lesser people would have folded.
But what caught my eye was an article by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette last Thursday, after the Canadiens lost a preseason game to the New York Islanders. In an otherwise unimportant loss, according to the article the play of Danis stood out.
“He came into camp in great shape and he’s been working hard,” head coach Guy Carbonneau told the Gazette. “I’m fighting for my career,” added Danis who stopped all eleven shots he faced.
Danis knew that he had no chance to make the Canadiens. His hope was that his play would be good enough to spark some interest from some other teams throughout the league. On Monday, when the Canadiens did the expected and assigned Danis to Hamilton, I had hoped that some team in need of goaltending help would pick him up and give him a shot at making an NHL career for himself. There are many other teams in the league that don’t possess the goaltending depth the Canadiens do, perhaps one of these teams would take a chance on him.
Instead he was waived through the league and will now ply his wares in Hamilton for the fourth consecutive year. At the end of this year he will become an unrestricted free agent, and maybe then he’ll found the right situation for himself and his career.
But until then, Yann Danis won’t complain, won’t demand a change of scenery, instead he’ll play hard and try to help the Bulldogs repeat as Calder Cup champions by doing what is required of him.
Because, above all, Yann Danis is a professional.