Tomorrow marks the proverbial beginning of the 2011-2012 Montreal Canadiens season, as the majority of the organization will be present at Club Laval sur le Lac for the team's annual golf tournament. The event marks the first time the entire team will be available to the media since the sombre days following the Habs elimination at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. Members of the media and fans alike will finally get some of the answers they've been waiting for all summer; how are Andrei Markov's and Josh Gorges' reconstructed knees? Is Max Pacioretty ready to confront perhaps the greatest mental block an athlete can ever be confronted with-that is, returning from a devastating, potentially career-ending injury? Is Carey Price ready to carry the load between the pipes for a second consecutive season? Will P.K Subban be able to fly around the dreaded sophomore slump the same way he flies around flat-footed defenders?
In reality, however, none of these answers will be fully answered by the time the team heads home tomorrow night to begin preparing for physicals and medicals on Friday. Tomorrow simply symbolizes the beginning of what Habs' fans are praying will be the year, the true Drive for 25. The foundation of hope is laid, and sparks of excitement will begin to fly around the city as the Montreal faithful gear up for another eight-month long campaign, full of ups and downs, highs and lows, with the hope that it is to be followed by a lengthy playoff run. Only in Montreal are the fans as emotionally involved in the game as their heroes on the ice. Each year brings a new sense of cautious optimism as armchair general managers around the city analyze and critique each move Pierre Gauthier has made over the past four months; is Nathan Beaulieu the real deal? Is Erik Cole the missing ingredient to round out the top-six forwards group? Is Peter Budaj an upgrade over Alex Auld? Will Gauthier regret hanging onto Scott Gomez following his disappointing year, or will he come out looking like a genius as a resurgent Gomez returns with a vengeance?
All intriguing thoughts, all to be cleared up in the very near future.
With the memory of Nathan Horton's Game 7 overtime winner no doubt still lingering, the Habs come into this season with something to prove. They must show that pushing the champs to Game 7 was not simply a fluke, but a genuine case of two elite teams duking it out to the final buzzer, with one team getting the knockout blow just before the bell. With an elite goaltender on the cusp of greatness, the makings of a top-tier defense and the addition of another bonafide top-line forward should only raise the expectation level for this edition of the Montreal Canadiens. It is time for this team to take the next step and ascend into the conversation of the elite, contending teams. Barring injury and other misfortunes, they have the capability to surprise a lot of people.
It is time for this franchise to carry the city on its back, and not the other way around. The support and love for this team, these players, this logo, is at an all-time high. It is now time to pay it forward; this city has been aching for glory for the past two decades, the streets of downtown impatiently waiting to be paraded and celebrated upon once more.
Another year, another season, another chapter in history. Once again, hope springs eternal in Montreal.
“To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.”
The torch has been flickering for eighteen long years. It is time for these Habs to re-ignite it and once again hold it high.
So, I ask you, fellow partisans-is this the year?