The Olympic Games are finally about to start up again, being broadcast around the globe from PyeongChang, South Korea. All eyes will be on the best athletes in the world attempting to bring home medals and glory for their countries.
That’s not exactly the case for men’s ice hockey, as the NHL elected to not send their players to the tournament this year. Instead, rosters of players from European leagues and the minor leagues in North America will compete for the prestige of an Olympic medal.
Included on those rosters are several former Montreal Canadiens players, giving Habs fans at least something to cheer for as the current season circles the drain.
Some are a bit more obscure, some were long-time contributors, and others never really broke out of the AHL for more than brief moments.
Brian Gionta, Right Wing, Team Captain
Habs Stats: 303 GP, 97 goals, 76 assists, former captain
Call it personal bias because he’s from my hometown, but Brian Gionta is the first player on this list. The former captain of the Canadiens currently isn’t playing in any professional league — outside of a one-game stint with the Rochester Americans, where he tallied a breakaway goal.
With the exception of one injury-shortened year, the Habs made the playoffs every season he was on the roster, including two massively entertaining runs to the conference finals in 2010 and 2014.
If you’re looking for a rooting interest in player form, this is an easy choice.
James Wisniewski, Defence
Habs Stats: 43 GP, 7 goals, 23 assists
Wiz is an interesting case for the Habs. When he was acquired for a second-round pick and a conditional fifth, he stepped in in place of the injured Andrei Markov and lit up the scoresheet in Montreal. For whatever reason, Wisniewski was shipped out to Columbus in the off-season for just a seventh-round pick.
Given his NHL experience and the quality of the United States’ defence, Wiz could see plenty of ice time in Korea in the coming weeks.
Raphael Diaz, Defence
Habs Stats: 128 GP, 4 goals, 37 assists
Diaz will forever be known as the player who was traded for folk hero Dale Weise during the 2013-14 season. Weise went on to play his way into fans’ hearts and minds by driving Milan Lucic insane during the playoffs, while Diaz then bounced around the league from the Canucks to the Rangers to the Flames then back to the Rangers once again.
During his time in Montreal, he was a serviceable defender who played a style that didn’t always mesh with the coaching style of the team. He didn’t post gaudy numbers, but he’ll more than likely play heavy minutes for a Swiss team that isn’t overly deep.
Jiri Sekac, Left/Right Wing
Habs Stats: 50 GP, 7 goals, 9 assists
Sekac came to Montreal as a bit of an enigma, he was a relatively unheard of KHL player whot had caught the eye of several teams in the off-season. Montreal landed him and right from the outset he looked to be a steal for the Habs, playing a fast-paced, skilled game, but lacked finish. His first NHL goal however was a big one, against the Boston Bruins no less, and fans were salivating at seemingly unearthing a gem of a player.
He was then traded out of nowhere for Devante Smith-Pelly, and bounced around Anaheim, Arizona, and Chicago before heading back to Europe in 2016 where he’s been a solid KHL player for Ak Bars Kazan alongside former Hab Markov.
Olympic Athletes from Russia
Nikita Nesterov, Defence
Habs Stats: 13 GP, 1 goal, 4 assists
Nesterov came to Montreal in a trade that materialized midway through the 2016-17 season. There wasn’t much to say about his 13-game stint other thang a few brilliant passes, and a number of brain cramps leading to goals against. Either way the trade can go down as a small victory for Marc Bergevin as he surrendered a late-round draft pick and mediocre AHL defender Jonathan Racine.
Ben Scrivens, Goalie
Habs Stats: 15 GP, 5-8-0. 3.06 GAA, .906 SV%
Scrivens was Marc Bergevin’s desperation answer to Carey Price being severely injured during the 2015-16 season. With Price out recovering from a major knee injury, and rookie Mike Condon was faltering a bit as the season spiraled out of control, Scrivens joined the team on the day of the Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins. Heading out to Edmonton was Zack Kassian, a potential redemption story after he failed to play a game for the Habs after a pre-season incident.
Despite of being a wonderful human being off the ice, Scrivens couldn’t save the Canadiens’ season, as they ended up drafting ninth overall in that summer’s NHL draft. He’ll be battling Justin Peters and Kevin Poulin for the starting job in net, and with his strong play in the KHL the past two years, he’s the likely favourite for the job right now.
Maxim Lapierre, Centre
Habs Stats: 293 GP, 40 goals, 40 assists
A pest of the highest order, Maxim Lapierre had one job on the ice, and it was to get under the skin of opposing players by any means necessary. He was extremely good at it as well, famously kicking off a biting incident in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins. During his time in Montreal he was primarily used as a defensive specialist and as a penalty killer. Despite his skills on the defensive side of the puck he was sent to Anaheim during the 2010-2011 season, in exchange for a 2012 fifth-round pick and Brett Festerling.
Christian Thomas, Right Wing
Habs Stats: 25 GP, 1 goal, 2 assists
Thomas was acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for long-time prospect Danny Kristo, in what looked like a lateral move for both teams. Thomas struggled to consistently find time in the Canadiens’ lineup, and even in the AHL for the Hamilton Bulldogs he never fully found a consistent offensive game.
Despite strong showings in St. John’s in the 2015-16 season, Thomas was sent to Arizona in exchange for Lucas Lessio, who in turn left Montreal for the KHL in the off-season.
An extremely quick winger with a great wrist shot, he’s really come into his own the past two years in the AHL playing for the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. At just 25 years old, Thomas is the youngest player on Team Canada at the Olympics.
Rene Bourque, Left/Right Wing
Habs Stats: 141 GP, 21 goals, 18 assists
We almost forgot one of the more infamous players in recent Canadiens history on this list. Rene Bourque had the misfortune of being the big return for Montreal in a trade that sent playoff hero and fan favourite Michael Cammalleri to Calgary in the midst of a disappointing season — in the midst of a game, in fact.
During the regular season in Montreal, Bourque was almost always a non-factor, never once psting a double-digit goal total despite playing with plenty of offensively gifted linemates. Then, when the playoffs came around, it was like Bourque became an entirely new player.
In a five-game series against the Senators, he tallied three points in 2013, then in the 2014 playoffs, Bourque exploded for eight goals and three assists in a run to the Conference Final. With Carey Price out and Dustin Tokarski in net, Bourque lit up the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist, including a hat trick while facing elimination in Game Five.
Bourque was traded to Anaheim for Bryan Allen in 2014-15 and then ended up in Columbus and Colorado before heading to Sweden to play with Lukas Vejdemo and Djurgården in the SHL.
The Montreal Canadiens are well represented in the Olympics this year, even if there aren’t any current NHL players headed to the games in South Korea. Whether you followed the team closely or not, every single player on this list has something that has been memorable about them, even if some did spend less than a full season wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge.