excerpt from the book For the Love of Hockey: Hockey Stars' Personal Stories by C.McDonell & J. Davidson
Although I always had good skills for my age,my parents were crucial to my success. My dad made a rink in the backyard every winter and spent hours playing with me there, but he also took me to a lot of early-morning practices and games. I just loved to play and never even thought about the NHL until I moved up to the Quebec Midget AAA hockey league. When I was successful playing with the best boys in Quebec, I realized I might be able to play with the best in the world.
I started to work out and make any sacrifice necessary to improve my chances of playing in the NHL. By age 15 and 16, there is peer pressure to do all sorts of other things besides hockey, and I saw many great hockey players choose different paths. They may or may not regret that now, because I missed most of the parties and trips and never went skiing due to my focus on the hockey career I wanted.
I was born in Montreal and grew up near the Forum. Guy LaFleur was my idol, and I tried to imitate him when I played with my friends. He made his NHL comeback when I was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so I later had the thrill of playing against him. Now that we're both back in Montreal, I've even had the opportunity to get to know him.
Our team was having a tough time just before Christmas 1996, and I asked Guy, as someone from the outside looking in,what I might do as team captain to help turn things around. Guy didn't think we were playing like a team and reminded me that I shouldn't hesitate to share my opinions with my teammates. He cautioned me not to talk as if I knew everything-which wasn't hard because, in truth, I myself wasn't playing very well-but he gave me the confidence to speak up. I took his advice, and I called again to thank him after we returned from a successful road trip right after our conversation.
The Canadiens keep their alumni close to the team, and I'm always open to the insights they have to offer. Even over different generations, I don't think things change in the dressing room. It's easy to believe the alumni when they tell me the team camaraderie is what they miss most. I still keep in touch with a number of guys I met when I started my career in Toronto. They'll be friends for life.
There are a lot of things to take care of as team captain in Montreal. It's good pressure if you can handle it, because it makes you play better. You can't get away with less than your best, or you'll hear about it from the fans and the media. Tradition is so important in Montreal, and there has always been tremendous pride in playing for the jersey. Part of my job is to make sure that everyone on the team knows the team's history and is proud to be part of the club's heritage. The dynasties of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are going to be hard to duplicate because of the parity in the league now, but Montreal will always be committed to having a competitive team.
Winning the Stanley Cup in 1993 capped a terrific year for me. I went through a divorce while playing in Edmonton, and it became important to be close to my family back in Montreal. I was ecstatic when the Oilers traded me to the Canadiens in the fall of 1992, but it was an unbelievable thrill to win the Cup in my first year with them. Everything went well for me. I had my best point totals ever, got some big goals and was a factor in every playoff series despite being on my third team in three years. My trades always happened in the off-season. I'm proud of leading the Leafs, the Oilers and then the Canadiens in scoring in each of those seasons, but it's so helpful for a player to make the adjustment to being with a new club and a new city before having to concentrate on hockey.
Early in that Stanley Cup drive, we were down 2-0 in games against the Quebec Nordiques, and we went into overtime in game three. I picked the puck up off a dump-in and spun off a defenseman. I threw a quick backhand at Ron Hextall, and he made the save, but the puck bounced off his defenseman's skate into the net. It was a lucky goal but a big goal and saved us from facing almost-impossible-to-overcome 3-0 deficit. We went on to set an amazing record of 10 overtime victories in a row.
It was a bitter disappointment to lose the final game of the 1996 World Cup to the Americans, but I had some proud moments playing for my country for the first time. Playing with and against the best players in the world was such a great experience. I love to compete when there's a lot on the line, and I always work hard for those opportunities.