From Monday’s Montreal Gazette:
It has long been suggested that the Canadiens are a year-round obsession in Montreal, and in fact wherever the team’s fans crop up worldwide to deify or diss their favourite team.
Montreal, as the saying goes, is nine months of winter and three months of poor skating.
The Gazette’s year-old Canadiens-devoted website, habsinsideout.com, has proven both to be true through an offseason which allegedly began June 6, the morning after the Anaheim Ducks polished off the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup.
The plan had been to feed Inside/Out with news and views to cover June’s NHL entry draft and July’s free-agency period, then let it lay mostly fallow for six weeks or so until we prepared the soil again for training camp.
In fact, the seeding never ended, in large part because of the passion of computer-connected readers to whom no Canadiens kernel is too small to digitally digest.
Contrast this to the pre-Internet days when the team would win the Stanley Cup (or come close), pack their bags and slip away invisibly until autumn’s camp, a story here or there dotting the summertime landscape.
The 2007-08 NHL season is underway on Montreal ice, the Canadiens rookie camp having begun at the Bell Centre on Saturday. Veterans report for medicals on Thursday, and will be on the ice in Pierrefonds a day later.
But in cyberspace, the Canadiens have never been away.
Since June 6, as of yesterday afternoon, fellow Inside/Out writer Kevin Mio and I had posted 139 news, feature and player profiles and assorted links.
In the same period, take-no-prisoners blogger Mike Boone added 45 posts of his own, the steam often visible as he vented.
Highlights included the Canadiens’ annual June postmortem and a season-ending podcast, the Hamilton Bulldogs winning the AHL’s Calder Cup, high-profile departures of Sergei Samsonov and Sheldon Souray, blanket coverage of the draft and free-agent acquisitions in text and audio form (complemented by the analysis of Gazette hockey writer Pat Hickey), and tributes to the late Canadiens icons John Ferguson and Sam Pollock.
We covered the reacquisition of Patrice Brisebois, served up flashbacks into club history, reviewed the Canadiens new and old jerseys and the upcoming retirement of those of Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey, and covered the standard phantom crises – Angelo Esposito, Daniel Brière and Saku Koivu, to name a few – which blackened the sky but quickly blew over, not unlike a July thunderstorm.
When we stopped to catch our breath, six days between updates our longest dormant stretch, readers didn’t go away. They simply ramped up the debate.
On Aug. 22, we posted a note about The Hockey News predicting a 13th-place finish for the Canadiens, then didn’t freshen the site until Aug. 28. The Hockey News item generated a site-record 477 reader comments.
Canadiens players often say they are amazed by the depth of interest fans have for the club. The language of schooling and issues of taxation often are floated when free agents choose not to consider Montreal as a destination. But don’t think the looming microscope until which they would play is not on the radar of some, no matter the platitudes they lob the organization’s way.
Montreal’s media frenzy is fuelled by the passion of fans; witness the cameras, microphones and notebooks in the Canadiens’ absurdly jammed dressing room on the day of an optional skate for proof of that. The fans’ passion, meanwhile, is stoked by the coverage we provide – in print, on the air, and increasingly on the Internet. And around and around we go.
The Inside/Out community, meanwhile, has grown into a spirited group. The vast majority are reasonable voices, and those who get worked up enough to wade into the fray with clenched fists usually apologize and help with the first-aid.
From someone at the site thinking aloud has been spawned the first, perhaps annual “Habs Fans Summit.” Fifty or so Inside/Out faithful have bought tickets for the Oct. 20 Bell Centre game against the Buffalo Sabres, coming from Victoria to Newfoundland, and New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Charlotte and New Hampshire.
Boone, Mio and I expect to drop in on their game-day tour of the arena, a late afternoon meal and/or a postgame pop or two uptown. They’ve even launched their own website – habsfansummit.com – to organize the event, and a pair of tickets to the game is being auctioned by one in the group, proceeds thoughtfully going to the Gainey Foundation.
Inside/Out kept playing long after the Canadiens in our rookie season, and we enter the 2007-08 campaign with high hopes, as does the team we follow.
We welcome all to join us as we again chronicle hockey’s most storied franchise as a platform for the exchange of information and opinion, right through to next summer’s alleged offseason.