Habs start camp in neutral

By Chris Boucher
The pennants hang with their usual luster. The goal posts and ice shine with the brightness of a new season. If baseball has the smell of grass and the open sky, then surely hockey has the shine. This is the time of the season when everyone’s a contender. The loss column is empty, and anything seems possible.

It all seemed like a distraction as the Canadiens stepped onto the ice to begin training camp. Only the brightness of the new season was enough to cut through the dark cloud of reality.

Until eight days ago, the shine might have been accompanied by more hope. At that point the team had made sufficient strides toward competing for a playoff spot. The car finally seemed to be in gear; inching its way up the hill of competitiveness. Now the reality of the situation sets in; with the loss of the team’s leader and number one centerman the Canadiens head into training camp coasting uphill.

Great teams are built through the middle. If goaltending is the anchor, then the centerman is the rudder. As it stands right now the Canadiens depth at center trails in comparison with other teams in the East. Where the Flyers have Primeau, Roenick, Dopita, and the Rangers have Lindros, Messier, Nedved; the Canadiens have Perreault, Juneau, Bulis.

Craig Darby, Benoit Gratton, and Mike Ribeiro fill out the depth chart. Barring any additional help via trade or free agency, Ribeiro may just become the wild card. His offensive game has never been questioned. However, his work ethic and defensive awareness have question marks jumping off the page.

That said, if the first day of training camp is any indication, Ribeiro may have finally exorcized his defensive demons. He was the best player on the ice during the season’s first scrimmage. He dominated the puck; controlling the flow of the game with his puck handling and vision. He was a presence at both ends of the ice. Either by leading the rush, or consistently picking up the third man on the back check. One day of training camp does not make a career. Ribeiro will need to continue his performance in order to convince his critics. A contributing Ribeiro might not be enough to get this car back in gear. But the real possibility exists that he may be able to find the parking break; because the hill is getting steeper by the day.

In this frustrating world, sports are simply a distraction; games played by men and women to entertain other men and women. But in times like these when we all feel small and helpless, the distraction of games help make life just a little easier to take.


Feel free to E-MAIL me with any questions or comments (in English or French). Just click on my name at the top of this page. I am a former goaltender with writing, scouting, and coaching experience.