(RC Note - This is from an acticle in the Montreal Gazette last Saturday, by Red Fisher. I tweaked it into the 3rd person for reading simplicity.)
In early September, Canadiens owner George N. Gillett Jr., fresh from a trip to Europe, is on the telephone with belated birthday greetings, for longtime Montreal Gazette scribe, Red Fisher.
It's not long before Gillet gets around to the subject of the 2006-07 season.
"What do you think we've got coming?" he asked.
"Guy Carbonneau, that's who."
"Oh," Gillett said.
Gillett was told that going into the season, it appeared that Carbonneau didn't have much more than last year's team to work with. What he did have were a blizzard of questions involving key (and expensive) personnel.
However, the good news was that the emotion Carbonneau brought to the game during his 19-season career promised he'd be the best thing the team had going for it.
Emotion always was the best part of Carbonneau's brilliant career as a player (why isn't Carbo in the Hockey Hall of Fame?). If you're wondering why the Canadiens have been doing so well thus far, it's because the kindly ol' coach has his troops playing with emotion on most nights.
"I'm surprised," a hockey person, whose opinion Fisher respects, mentioned recently. "I really didn't think he could do it, but he's got that team playing with lots of emotion."
So here they are No. 3 overall in the Eastern Conference behind Buffalo and Atlanta (No. 4 with seedings) almost halfway through the NHL schedule.
You can say all you want about how well Saku Koivu and Cristobal Huet have played, how productive Sheldon Souray has been, how much quiet leadership Andrei Markov brings to the arena, and how much the power play and penalty-killing teams have improved, but if you don't play with emotion, fuhgeddabouditt!
Only days before the start of the season, Carbo made a point of mentioning the importance of the Big E.
(He wasn't talking about Eric Lindros, the big U. - RC)
Behind the bench, there are times when you need to be emotional," he told Fisher. "What I have to do is learn when and how to do it. Try to pace myself.
"I don't want to hide that," he added. "When it's a big game, I want the players to know it's a big game.
"As a player, you spend 30 or 40 seconds on the ice, you do what you have to do, then you come back to the bench and try to catch your breath.
"As a coach, I'm here to push every player to his maximum," Carbo said. "Some people might not like it, some people will love it. You always have that, but as long as I'm fair ... as long as I can get them to play with emotion, we'll do all right."