Brisebois, the Canadiens’ new ambassador, likes the potential of the current team

Brisebois, the Canadiens’ new ambassador, likes the potential of the current team

Today, working in the Bell Center’s corporate suites on game nights and in the community as one of the Canadiens’ new ambassadors, Brisebois likes what he sees from the team’s young defense corps and envisions great potential not far off .

“Nobody knew what to expect from the Canadiens at the start of the season,” the former defenseman said Sunday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, outside his Team Sundin locker room between periods of the Hyundai Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic .

Patrice Brisebois of Team Sundin looks to make a pass as he is watched by Mikael Renberg of Team Lindros during the Hyundai Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on November 13. Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

Indeed, after reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens slumped to their worst 82-game season in their history, their 22-49-11 record in 2021-22 to leave with 55 points, ranking 32nd and last in the NHL.

But with executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton at the helm, general manager Kent Hughes and the scouting staff stocking the lockers for the 2022 NHL Draft and Martin St. Louis in his first full season as coach, the Canadiens and their fans are looking forward, not back.

Montreal’s three-game winning streak ended at home on Tuesday with a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, who won their 10th straight. But the Canadiens are perhaps unlikely at 8-8-1 after 17 games, in sixth place in the eight-team Atlantic Division, after a 6-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

There were more question marks than exclamation marks surrounding this team heading into 2022-23.

Patrice Brisebois greets his girlfriend, Nadia Saputo, before the Hyundai Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on November 13. Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

For starters, franchise goaltender Carey Price was sidelined with a knee injury Jake Allen pressured at job number 1 i Sam Montembeaultwho entered with 63 games of NHL experience to his name, in the backup role.

“Right now, the goalies are getting the job done night after night,” Brisebois said. “They are pushing themselves, playing with confidence and giving the team a chance to win every night.

“Same thing with the young defense. It’s going to be tough, everyone was saying, but look what they’re doing so far. It’s amazing.”

Three of the six Canadiens defensemen who played against the Devils: Kaiden Guhle20; Arber Xhekaj, 21; i Jordan Harris22 – are the same age or younger than Brisebois was when the latter won the Stanley Cup in 1993. Combined, they have played 61 NHL games.

Patrice Brisebois, 22, with then-Canadiens general manager Serge Savard and the Stanley Cup in 1993, in action during a game in 1993-94. Patrice Brisebois collection; Mitchell Layton, Getty Images

“Offensively, the forwards are missing some parts,” Brisebois said. “But [Nick] suzuki, [Cole] Caufield, [Mike] Hoffman and [Kirby] Dach… nice to see because it was probably unexpected.

“Right now, everybody is happy and now the question is, can they make the playoffs? It’s a long season, but they’ve had a good start. I’m sure Kent Hughes, St. Louis and the Canadiens organization are pleased with how they’re playing. Hopefully, they’ll keep it up.”

Brisebois played 1,009 NHL games in 18 seasons (1991-2009): 896 over two stints with the Canadiens and 113 for the Colorado Avalanche from 2005-07.

He ended his career with a tearful press conference in Montreal on September 24, 2009. That night, his legendary namesake presented him with the Jean Beliveau Trophy on the ice at the Bell Center in recognition of his work in the community .

Patrice Brisebois in a 2007 game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre, and on September 24, 2009, with Canadiens icon Jean Beliveau, accepting the team’s annual Jean Beliveau Trophy. Andre Ringuette, Getty Images; Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images

Fittingly, the Boston Bruins were the visitors in a preseason game that night, Brisebois made his NHL debut against the Bruins on January 27,1991 at the Montreal Forum. He got his first NHL point in that game, assisting on a Shayne Corson goal; on Sunday in Toronto, he and Corson, the latter playing for Team Lindros, were opponents in the Legends Classic.

Brisebois wore the “CH” logo on his blue helmet, as he does in games he plays with the Canadiens’ alumni team at fundraisers across Quebec and beyond.

“I still love the game, I still love to play,” he said. “It’s always special to wear the Canadiens jersey, and it also keeps me in shape. It’s fun.”

The highlight of Brisebois’ 107 regular season and playoff Stanley Cup goals came in Game 4 of the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Boston.

Patrice Brisebois shakes hands with Canadiens legend Larry Robinson on Nov. 19, 2009, as the latter retired at the Bell Centre. Andre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

With 42 seconds left in the third period and the Canadiens on the power play, he lasered a shot past Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas for a 1-0 victory, the sound of his shot deflecting off the cross almost to the roof of the TD Garden. It was the last of Brisebois’ nine career playoff goals.

“Right away, I saw the corner open,” he said at the time. “I saw the hole and put my heart and my Sher-Wood into it.”

Four months ago, the Canadiens announced the appointment of Brisebois, Guy Carbonneau, Vincent Damphousse and Chris Nilan as team ambassadors, joining ten-time Stanley Cup-winning captain Yvan Cournoyer and Rejean Houle, the team alumni director.

Ambassadors over the decades have included the late Maurice Richard, Beliveau, Henri Richard and Guy Lafleur.

Team Sundin’s Patrice Brisebois in action on Nov. 13 during the Hyundai Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Nov. 13. Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

The current group of six is ​​an outreach of the Canadiens brand, a celebration of the team’s storied past and a promotion of its present and future.

“It’s a great honor when I think of Maurice, Jean, Henri and Guy,” Brisebois said. “When I was playing for the Canadiens, I never would have thought about it, and then I got the good news in July. I thank (team owner) Geoff Molson for his confidence.”

A corporate function at the Bell Center on October 24 brought together team management, former champions, ambassadors, the current team and many sponsors. That night, a week after the Canadiens had defeated the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2, Brisebois made it a point to chat with defensemen and assistant coach Stephane Robidas, who handles defense.

“I asked the [defensemen]“Against Pittsburgh, how did it feel to play against [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin? ” he said. “The kids said to me, ‘It was great, but it was a little intimidating at first…’

“I told them, ‘Never, ever impress an opponent because if you’re on the ice, you’re there because you belong.’ I hope that left an impression. I told them that when I started in the NHL, there were [Wayne] Gretzky, [Mario] The best, [Mark] Messier, [Jaromir] Jagr… so many good players. It was a fun conversation.”

Patrice Brisebois waves to fans and has fun during warmups before a Montreal Canadiens alumni charity game at Bob Birnie Arena in Pointe-Claire, Quebec on January 31, 2020. Dave Stubbs, NHL.com

Brisebois also enjoyed a chat with Robidas, who played with him on the Montreal blue line from 2000-2002.

“Stephane said, ‘I’m lucky to have so many good kids, they want to learn, they have a great work ethic,’ and I said to him, ‘With this core, in three, four, five years, the Canadiens are going to be a very good team.”

Like most observers of the current Canadiens, Brisebois has been pleasantly surprised through the first five weeks of the season. And like Cournoyer, Houle and the late legendary ambassadors, he’s learning that it’s more fun to talk about the Canadiens when they’re winning.

“I really think Martin is a big part of the success,” he said. “When he was a player he was passionate about the game. He prepared for every game and that’s why he got better every night. I think that’s what he’s teaching his team now, and the players love their coach.

“At the beginning of this year, everyone was expecting another tough season. But so far, it’s been a lot of fun. This is a group that’s building something together.”

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