Rabid Habs

The Redemption of Sergei Gonchar

Habs' Sergei Gonchar

Written by: Paul Campbell

We were caught unprepared for the news: Sergei Gonchar was coming to Montreal for Travis Moen. The overwhelming fan and media reaction to this surprise trade was…. unanimous apathy. Neither player mattered much to his respective team, Gonchar being seen as long past his prime, Moen as never having had one. Bergevin was politely golf-clapped for prudent future cap management, and Gonchar’s age made him the subject of too many broken hip and heart attack jokes – athletes age like dogs, apparently, making Gonchar 280 in hockey years. Maybe, some hopeful pundits whispered, this is just the first boring move in a much larger series of exciting deals. That was the most people hoped for.

Five games later, fans and media on the Montreal side of the trade are shaking our collective heads, wondering how an ancient useless cap-evasion scam of a defenseman could be so good. Gonchar is averaging 20 minutes a game. He’s moved up to the second defensive pair, and taken the first-power-play spot from recent Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. He’s revitalized the power play, kept his nose clean at even strength, pocketed two assists, and maintained a plus rating during a solid 4-1 stretch. Even his apparent missteps benefit the team. Immediately after Gonchar’s first penalty as a Hab expired, the Canadiens scored. Later in the same game, Gonchar took another penalty, which was also quickly followed by a Montreal goal. How could all this be happening?

Michel Therrien already had the answer, and likely advised Bergevin to acquire Gonchar as soon as the Habs began their early season slide. Therrien knew all along what we’re just learning now: Sergei Gonchar is the best fixer in the league, the NHL’s version of “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction. As soon as Gonchar arrived in Montreal, he set up a series of one-on-one meetings with the coach and several key players. What follows is a verbatim transcript from those closed-door meetings.


 

Meeting 1: Michel Therrien

MT: Sergei, my old friend, I am so happy to see you! How was your journey? You arrived just today?

SG: Yes. I came as soon as I could.

MT: Very good, very good. Sergei, I have to share with you my plans. I know you will help very much in the dressing room, maybe give player advice, play a few minutes….

SG: I will play 20 minutes every game.

MT: Sergei! You joke with me, you can’t…

SG: 20 minutes.

MT: Ok, ok, you know best, Sergei. I remember in Pittsburgh where you make the decision, also. We need you most to help with the power play. What can we do?

SG: I will play with Andrei, first unit. We will score.

MT: But Sergei, you shoot the same hand as Andrei! You cannot…

SG: It is done. [Handing MT a notebook] These are new power-play and breakout systems. Learn them for next practice.

Meeting 2: Max Pacioretty

MP: Hi, pleased to meet you [stands, extending his hand to shake]

SG: [Standing, taking MP’s hand hard, pulling him in so close his mouth is almost in Max’s ear]

MP: What the…? Hey, you’re going to break my hand! Let go!

SG: [Whispering] The hand is for shooting. Not passing. Not to deke. Never to deke. [Squeezing even harder]

MP: What? Argghh! Stop!

SG: [Loudly now] Say it. Tell me the hand is for shooting!

MP: OK OK! THIS HAND IS FOR SHOOTING!

SG: [Releasing him] Now go. When you feel the pain, you will remember to shoot.

Meeting 3: Andrei Markov

AM: [Enters, standing. Looks at Gonchar]

SG: [Stands, looking serious at Markov]

AM: [Nods]

SG: [Nods]

AM: [Exits]

Meeting 4: PK Subban

PKS: [Enters, beaming] Hey Sergei, it’s an honour to meet you finally off the ice. I really looked up to you when I was a kid. [Extends hand] I’m Pernell Karl, but you can call me….

SG: I know who you are. You must not try so hard.

PKS: Oh, sorry [Smile fading]. I was just being friendly. That’s how I am. I come off sometimes as…

SG: No. I mean on the ice. You try too hard to do everything because of the big contract. [Extends his arm to rest his hand on PK’s shoulder. Locks eyes with him as he gives a fatherly squeeze]. No more working for you on ice. You must play. I will take the pressure of failing power play. You must relax. Be free.

PKS: [Looking at first confused, then relieved] Sergei, wow…thank you… [Eyes welling] You really get me. [Catching Gonchar in a full-on hug, starting to sob] Someone here finally gets me.


It’s too early to tell if Gonchar’s team-wide interventions will have a lasting influence. What is already abundantly clear, however, is that his impact on his new club reaches far beyond the contribution he makes on the ice. Gonchar hasn’t come to redeem himself in Montreal; he’s here to redeem the Habs.