There’s a sports movie from the year 2000 that I enjoy, and I am not sure I know anyone else who likes it: The Replacements.
With the threat of spoiling a 22-year-old movie, here are some notes to make this all make sense. Gene Hackman plays the coach of a football team in a league (definitely the NFL, but for legal and rights issues, not the NFL) that uses replacement players during a strike. They build a team of random players who last played in College. Near the end of the movie, the star quarterback crosses the picket line. The team is still struggling. At halftime, a reporter asks him what the team needs.
His response? Heart.
There’s also a great line before the final game in the movie. The players get together for their pre-game huddle knowing the strike will end soon. Someone screams: “There is no tomorrow for you, and that makes you all very dangerous people.”
The Canadiens on Tuesday had a lack of skill. They had a lack of talent. What they weren’t missing was heart. What they weren’t missing was urgency. Everyone in that lineup dreamed of one day making the NHL. Who knows how long some of them will stay there, but for at least one night, they were there. They weren’t going to let the opportunity pass them by.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not blaming that the players who were out of the lineup for not caring enough, nor am I implying it. I am not saying they don’t care, that they have no heart, that they don’t lack urgency.
The players are human. They see what is going on around the world with COVID-19. They see their friends, leaders, and teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber forced out of the lineup for very humanizing reasons. Most of the team has had injuries or played through injuries after a short off-season that saw them fall three games short of the Stanley Cup. Things can snowball from there.
Heart also isn’t enough. The Canadiens, after all, still lost the game. The Lightning also had players missing of their own. There’s a lot of talk about coaching, or systems, or lack of this, or lack of that. Heart alone isn’t a solution, but what the team showed on Tuesday was a path forward.
As someone who covers the AHL, it is incredible to see players I watched, talked to, and followed get a chance in the NHL. They made the most of their opportunity, and the attitude they bring in can be infectious.
A lot of people talk about a winning culture, and sure, that’s important but the Canadiens are a few months removed from an AHL division title and a Stanley Cup final appearance. The culture doesn’t turn into a toxic one after a bad season. A culture of caring is also important, and for one night the Canadiens showed what it could do.