Jaroslav Spacek works out on a bike at the Mansfield Athletic Club in Brossard on Tuesday.
Peter McCabe, Gazette
Twitter followers – join me at @Dave_Stubbs – submitted a variety of questions for me to ask former Canadiens defenceman Jaroslav Spacek over lunch on Tuesday. Those questions, supplemented by others of my own usually asked as follow-ups to his replies, form the Q&A that follows.
Spacek, who has played for seven different clubs during his 13-season, 880-game NHL career (currently he’s with Carolina, a UFA come July 1), made it clear throughout our two-hour lunch that he loved his time in Montreal and he has no axe to grind with anyone.
But many of the 38-year-old’s remarks, which add considerable detail and context to what we had print space for in today’s Montreal Gazette feature, shed some interesting light on the often bizarre team dynamic and some of the turmoil that enveloped the club during the past couple of seasons. It’s a good cross-section of insight that, off the record, ran much deeper and grew stranger by the anecdote.
In talking with your former teammates here, the guys with whom you stay in touch, what’s the feeling about the hiring of Marc Bergevin as general manager, and will this exorcise the ghost of his predecessor, Pierre Gauthier?
From what I hear, hiring Bergevin is all positive. The organization was in the dark the last couple of years. … It was only Pierre’s way. He never asked anybody else, probably. He set up the strict rules we all had to follow.
What were the most frustrating and most satisfying things about playing under coach Jacques Martin?
I think we played too much of a defensive system, I didn’t like that. I think it was even boring to watch us, to be honest. To be very honest. Come on, at home, we play like this? I think it was boring a little bit. At the end of the night, if you win 2-1, nobody cares. It’s a win. But there weren’t too many games that we win 5-2, 6-4, wide-open games in which you just had fun. There weren’t too many like that.
The run we had in my first year here (2009-10) was very satisfying, even though I was injured a little bit… it wasn’t so much the coaching as the players all coming together. You have a couple guys in the room who had won the Stanley Cup, yes, but after the all-star break, we really started to play like a team. Before that, we were trying to figure out what we could do, what kind of role we could have in the team.
At the break, we were still outside the playoff (cut), and we started to really play like a team. (Goaltender) Jaro Halak started to play really, really good for us. He took us there. But we were all really good with each other. That was something where you could see the relationships build. We started to play for each other and that was just great.
Many nights, Canadiens fans were crying out for Martin to show some fire-breathing emotion behind the bench. Did you ever see that?
He’d do it sometimes in the locker room. When you go off the ice, usually coaches go to their office and come to the dressing room a few minutes before the next period, whatever their routine is. But when you walk in the locker room right after a period and the coach is waiting for you to sit down, you know you’re in trouble. Jacques did that a couple times.
I didn’t mind Jacques. But today you see young coaches trying to change systems, trying to adjust to other teams. We never did that. No 2-1-2 (formation). With the talent we had, we should have been aggressive. We never did that. It was chip and chase. Now everybody’s going after Gomer. Cammy didn’t like it, either. Those guys have to play with the puck.
It was like watching my (9-year-old) kid, firing the puck along the boards and chasing it. We didn’t have strong forwards to run somebody over. We should have played with the puck and made the plays. If we chip it around the goal, do you think Gio’s going to win the battles against Chara?
We’d sit back and wait for a mistake. We never put the pressure on the opponent. It’s sometimes OK to do that on the road. But at home, where you should be playing your own game, it was the worst thing.
Communication seems to have been less than ideal. Compare it to Carolina, having been traded to the Hurricanes?
Well, Jacques didn’t talk to us. He coached more than 1,200 NHL games. At least you have to talk to your players. In Carolina, we’d have a players’ breakfast every day and (head coach) Kirk Muller would sit with us, talk to us. He’d talk to us at pre-game meals. When I got there, Eric Staal was playing really bad, he wanted to get out of there. (Goalie) Cam Ward wasn’t good. Kirk turned those into the two best players on the team, with help of other guys, and that made everyone want to play better.
You’ve heard the story about Mike Cammalleri asking for his Habs jersey, upon being traded, and being told he could have it if he paid for it. What about your jersey?
I didn’t take mine when I was traded. But I saw Geoff Molson three weeks ago at a hockey tournament – our sons play in the same organization – and he asked me, “Did you ever get your game-worn jersey?” I told him no and he said he’d take care of it. Three days later, a courier showed up at my home with my jersey and a nice note from Geoff.
Geoff was thrown in the deep end as owner of the team. He grew up as a fan, in the Molson family, and he’s been learning his responsibilities every day. Now, he can make the moves. He can’t kick out the coach and GM in the middle of the season. You need somebody to run the show. There’s so much stuff to do in the middle of the season. Serge Savard probably helped Geoff a lot to find the new GM.
I saw Geoff two days after the press conference (to introduce Bergevin) at the hockey tournament and he seemed so relieved. He finally had some time for his family after so many meetings. “We have a guy to go with and now it’s up to him,” he told me.
My wife saw Geoff’s wife, Kate, and she was so happy Geoff is finally at home for a few minutes with his kids.
The 2010 playoff performance by Jaroslav Halak – was that the best postseason performance you had ever seen by a goaltender?
I played in Edmonton (in 2005-06, losing a seven-game Stanley Cup Final to Carolina) and we had Dwayne Roloson in goal. He did some incredible stuff during that playoff season. I saw some of those same things in Halak, the same way, but Halak was probably 10 years younger than Roloson. It’s something you want to see in your goalie.
Jaro basically carried us through the first two rounds for sure. I think we ran out of juice a little bit in the third round against Philly, having played two hard seven-game series (against Washington and Pittsburgh). The first two series weren’t that physical for us. We tried to think the Philly series would be easy. We stayed away from the type of hockey we played in the first two series.
What are your impressions of P.K. Subban?
I think he’s a great hockey player. But he needs to be coached the right way and I don’t think Jacques Martin was right for him. That’s how I see it.
Randy Cunneyworth, Martin’s interim replacement?
I think Randy was told what to do. We had a general manager running the show. Randy was put in the worst situation ever. Here’s a great guy who can be a good coach, but Montreal wasn’t a good fit for him with the French stuff.
What was your proudest moment as a Canadien?
I loved the 100th anniversary game (Dec. 4, 2009 vs. Boston). I scored the first goal of the game, and I’m pretty happy about that. I should have kept that puck but I was so emotional. I had all my friends here, they saw the huge team photo that was taken before the game. That was something I’ll always remember.
A biggest regret here?
Everybody wants to win the Stanley Cup, right? I went to Game 7 in the Final with Edmonton. I see the excitement here. Everybody lives for it. I was part of it and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. There are no regrets beyond not winning the Cup.
Well, maybe this: on every team I played, the coach or GM would talk to you. They wouldn’t wait for the last second. If you played bad, they’d come and talk to you right away. That didn’t happen here.
And the worst thing in my 2½ years in Montreal is that we were always hurt. It seemed that we never played as a full team.
Was there such a thing as the “Montreal experience” for you?
My wife, Lenka, came to Carolina to visit me with the kids this past Christmas. We went to a Starbucks and sat down for some coffee and dessert and she said, “This is nice.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Nobody bothers us. You can sit like a normal family.”
In Montreal, you’d never do this. I’m not complaining, not for one minute. You can go, but everybody looks at you… “What are you doing? What are you eating?” They’ll put you on Twitter or Facebook.
I think everyone growing up wants to play for the Canadiens. When I was growing up in communism, I wasn’t thinking about the NHL, I didn’t even know what the NHL is. Then I watched the Russians and the Czechs and the big battles in the world championships, and you see Canada… The 1989 revolution, you see (fellow Czech) Jaromir Jagr win two Stanley Cups and you start to think about the NHL.
No second thoughts about having signed to play in Montreal instead of elsewhere, being an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2009?
I would never change it. I had two options – here or Phoenix. I liked both. To be honest, Phoenix was faxing me a contract already, for three years, but then Bob (Gainey) came back and made me an offer and I always wanted to stay in the East.
I wanted to stay in Buffalo, but they offered me just one year and I didn’t like it. I was 35, I’d had a good season, and I had to take as much as I could. One year wasn’t enough. I had to make the right decision for myself and my family and three years here was perfect.
Your sense of humour and skill as a practical joker are two of your trademarks. Why aren’t you on Twitter, or even on Facebook?
(Laughs) My wife told me, “If you ever get Facebook, I’ll divorce you.” Fair enough!
Did you have a favourite teammate to prank?
Gomer. Gio. Pleky, of course. But they got me back.
Greatest prank of all time?
(On the record, he’ll say nothing, just as a magician never reveals how he does his tricks.)
How did you get along with the Montreal media?
I always enjoyed them. Never had a problem except for (name withheld at Spacek’s request). I didn’t like him from the first day and I don’t think he liked me. He never talked to me after we’d won, but when we lost, I knew he’d be coming. I always had the feeling that he’d ask a question that he’d already answered for his story, or would try to lead me the way he wanted me to go. (laughs) I’d always try to (mess) with him and talk about something else.
One enduring memory of your time as a Canadien?
I enjoyed every day. Any day.