BROSSARD – The Canadiens will fly to Washington with 24 players on board on Thursday afternoon knowing there’s a chance some of them might not be making the return trip.
The trade deadline can be an exciting day for hockey fans, anxiously tracking rumors and following round-the-clock coverage on sports news stations. Hockey insiders and commentators are looking forward to spending the day tracking down NHL general managers looking for scoops on blockbuster deals, but for the players themselves, February 28 – the day after the deadline – can’t come soon enough.
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“It’s in the back of your mind, for sure,” admitted Petteri Nokelainen, who came to Montreal as part of a trade with Phoenix on October 23. “You try not to think about it but you know there are trades going on and something will happen for a lot of teams. You never know what will happen or if someone won’t be coming back. It’s a stressful time for everybody but you have to just live with it.”
The majority of vacationers heading to Fort Lauderdale this weekend are likely planning on spending a relaxing Monday afternoon at the beach to kick off Spring Break. The Canadiens, on the other hand, will be practicing in nearby Sunrise, FL, trying not to think about how quickly their lives could change before their afternoon flight to Tampa.
“We have practice in the early afternoon so we’ll focus on that when we’re at the rink. Maybe check out what’s going on when we get off the ice,” shared Nokelainen, who has received the green light from doctors to return to action after missing the last five weeks with an upper body injury. “I’m sure it’s exciting for the fans but for players it’s nerve racking. It’s not our favorite day of the year, that’s for sure.”
Having lived through six trade deadlines already in his career – including the one that sent him from San Jose to Montreal in 2007 – Josh Gorges knows what to expect when Monday rolls around and how to avoid getting too worked up thinking about the “What Ifs?”
“As players you do the best you can to stay focused on the task at hand. It’s not easy to deal with knowing there’s a possibility some of these guys might not be here but we have to do our job and be ready to play,” he explained. “Whatever happens outside of that, we’ll deal with when the time comes but we have to stay focused on playing good hockey.”
The 27-year-old has seen some of his closet friends traded during his time with the Canadiens and he isn’t surprised to hear rumors swirling about the possibility of longtime buddy Travis Moen adding his name to that list.
“He’s a guy who goes out there and gives everything he has every night and he wears his heart on his sleeve. You know what you’re going to get with Travis,” described Gorges, who previously played two seasons in Junior alongside Moen with the Kelowna Rockets. “The reason his name gets talked about so much is he’s a player that every team wants. He’s a guy that’s going to play hard for his teammates and he’s going to do all the little things that help make a team win. He’s not a guy who complains in the dressing room or with the coaching staff; he just goes out there and plays hard. He’s the ultimate teammate.”
With nine players in their first or second full NHL seasons, some of the younger Canadiens can look to leaders like Gorges to help get them through the stressful day. It also won’t hurt that the man running their practices already knows exactly what they’re going through.
“Everybody is different but the focus has to be on what we’re doing at this time and you really have to put those other elements out of your control – because it’s really not within your control – out of your mind,” advised Randy Cunneyworth, who was traded from Hartford to Chicago at the trade deadline in 1994. “The focus has to be on today’s practice, tonight’s preparation and tomorrow’s game. We have to be ready to play.”
The Canadiens know they may not be sitting next to the same players on the ride back from Florida, but for now, their focus is on making sure they bring home an important six points.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.