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|Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau are more than optimistic about their team next season.
Seated comfortably before a jam-packed press conference room at the Bell Centre with his sleeves rolled up, a relaxed and content Bob Gainey reflected on his young club’s amazing season and hinted that his team’s progress is only just beginning.
“First, I want to thank our fans for their support, which was taken to a whole new level this season,” admitted Gainey. “At the Bell Centre, in the community, and across the country, our supporters made our team feel special, and that’s important to any athlete. It also makes my job easier, when the players know they're playing somewhere as special as Montreal.”
While pleasantly surprised to have seen his team shock the hockey world by going from long-shots of even making the playoffs to first-place finishers in the Eastern Conference, Gainey is hungry for more.
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“Our goal is to uphold our tag as legitimate contenders, not just for a season or two but for years to come,” vowed Gainey. “Next year won’t be any easier. We will once again have to earn our way to the top, and remember that we didn’t begin the season in first place. We got there with hard work and dedication.”
The Habs’ road to success was paved in large part thanks to the fresh legs of their nucleus of young talent, a fact not lost on their head coach.
“Our team was full of pleasant surprises this year,” said Carbonneau. “We didn’t know what to expect from our kids, but everyone from Josh Gorges to Maxim Lapierre, Carey Price and the Kostitsyn brothers responded well to the challenge of playoff hockey. I’ve always said that to build a winner, you have to grow together and we did that this year.”
Along with the great strides made by the Canadiens’ generation next came growing pains that halted the Habs’ playoff express in the second round against Philadelphia. While the rough-and-tumble Bruins and Flyers each gave the Canadiens all they could handle, Gainey isn’t about to do a 180 and change what got his team to the postseason in the first place.
“I don’t think our team had trouble adjusting to the physical play of our opponents. I’m not so sure that other teams can say the same about our team speed, though,” noted Gainey. “I don’t see our style changing moving forward. We’re going to attack, we’re going to score and we’re going to beat you within the rules.”
Understandably pleased with the blend of veterans and youth that makes up his current roster, Gainey is aware he still has a busy summer ahead as he looks to re-sign players and dip into the league’s free agent pool.
“We’re now in the third year of a new CBA and we’re getting more and more comfortable in this salary cap system,” added Gainey, who made it clear that an impact forward remains at the top of his free agent wish list. “Every team has their own puzzle to piece together. Some teams simply try to emulate the Stanley Cup champions, but it’s been a long time since a team has won consecutive championships in this league. We have our own recipe.”
One ingredient of the Canadiens’ memorable 2007-08 season will soon no longer be a part of Guy Carbonneau’s wardrobe. With his lucky Hermès tie making almost as many headlines as his first-place team, Carbo has high hopes for the coveted piece of loudly colored fabric. Plans are in the works to have the tie auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds going to the Canadiens Children’s Foundation.
“I wanted to make sure to thank all the fans who sent me ties over the last few weeks,” said Carbonneau. “I must have received almost 400 ties from people who also sent letters explaining why the ties meant something special to them. Maybe next year I’ll give suits a try.”
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com