Mendes on NHL: Hopping on the Habs-wagon

With the Ottawa Senators now out of the picture, I have enjoyed a full week off work. Over the past seven days, I’ve had a chance to spend time with my family, do household chores and work as an assistant in my daughter’s kindergarten class.

As fulfilling as the family life is, I must admit that I’m feeling a little left out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There is a definitely a hockey void in my heart right now and I’m desperately trying to fill it. I’ve taken to growing a playoff beard, because there is no chance that I’ll be on TV anytime soon.

But having a playoff beard without having a team to cheer for seems a little bit silly. It’s time for me to pick a team to root for over the next six weeks. As appealing as the San Jose Sharks are, I’m not sure the people of Ottawa would ever forgive me if I started cheering for Dany Heatley.

So with that in mind, I’m going to do something a lot more sensible: I’m going to cheer for the Montreal Canadiens. Good people of Ottawa, before you start trashing my house, please read my 10 reasons why I’d like to see the Montreal Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Final.

1. It’s been a while

Since the NHL switched to its current playoff format in 1994, only four teams from the East have not advanced to the Conference Final: Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins and…you guessed it, Montreal.

This is the longest drought the Habs have ever experienced in their illustrious history. These aren’t your father’s Montreal Canadiens – the juggernaut that rolled to the Stanley Cup Final on an annual basis, making their fans more annoying than Gilbert Gottfried.

These Habs have an underdog quality to them, making them a lot more acceptable to the average Canadian hockey fan.

2. Bob Gainey The former Canadiens GM, who stepped aside midway through the season, is one of the classiest men the game has ever known. Gainey has suffered through unimaginable personal tragedy; losing his wife to cancer and his daughter to a sailing accident. While he is no longer part of the day-to-day operations of the club, their advancement is vindication for some of the moves he made over the past 12 months: signing Mike Cammalleri, hiring Jacques Martin to bring in more structure and not bending to pressure to trade Jaroslav Halak back in December.

Somewhere, I hope Gainey is watching his Habs with a measure of satisfaction.

3. It’s in my blood

Okay, time for a little full disclosure here: When I was growing up, I was a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. And while I put down my Habs pom-poms when I entered this profession 10 years ago, there will probably always be a part of me that wants to see them do well. I guess it’s hard to kill that inner Mats Naslund after all.

4. Original six We have the potential for an Original Six match-up in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in more than 30 years. What’s even more amazing is that we have the chance for four Original Six teams to advance to the Conference Final – something we’ve never had since the NHL expanded in 1967. A Montreal-Boston and Detroit-Chicago match-up would be amazing, because there is nothing better for the NHL than having its most storied franchises healthy and successful (And as much as it pains me to say it, from this perspective, it would be great to see the Leafs back in the post-season as well).

5. All-Canadian match-up

Canucks fans are probably upset with my last point, thinking that I want Chicago to advance to the Conference Final. But in reality, I think an all-Canadian match-up in the Cup Final would be great. The last time we saw an all-Canadian match-up in the Final was all the way back in 1989 when Calgary beat Montreal in six games.

And if the Canadiens were to beat the Canucks in the Final this year, we would have the potential for something very rare: A post-series riot in both cities.

6. Coaching staff

Time for full disclosure, Part 2.

In another life, I used to work in the PR department of the Ottawa Senators, when Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn were behind the bench. While Jacques was a taskmaster – I never got the NHL stats to him on time every morning – he has always treated me very well.

And Perry is one of the nicest men you will ever meet in hockey. After watching them fall short so many times against the Maple Leafs and getting the tag of unable to win in the post-season, it would be rewarding to see these two advance all the way to the Cup Final.

7. Hal Gill

At the start of the season, I had a debate with an unnamed media colleague over the merits of Hal Gill. After watching Gill play for the Penguins last season, I was certain that Gill was a good addition to the Habs roster.

My friend, however, sternly disagreed and we had a running back-and-forth over Gill’s abilities over the course of the season. I must admit that I feel some vindication seeing Gill play the role of shot-blocking, shutdown defenseman in these playoffs. I’ve always thought Gill got a bad rap in Toronto and he’s been trying to shake that label ever since.

8. The Ole chant

I’ve never liked the “Ole, Ole, Ole” chant at the Bell Centre from the Montreal faithful. But if the Habs play into June, at least they will cross over with the FIFA World Cup and their ridiculous soccer chant won’t look so out of place.

9. One for the little guys

Last summer, the Habs took a lot of heat for acquiring a series of tiny forwards like Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta.

They were given nicknames like “The Smurfs” by cynical members of the media. But as much as I bought into that hype, it was somewhat hypocritical of me. I’m only 5-foot-9, so who am I to be criticizing short people? If these small Habs can advance, it will be a great day for those of us who have size 8.5 feet.

10. More work for Louis Jean

If the Habs advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, I’m thinking I can watch the majority of the final two rounds from the comfort of my living room, while Montreal reporter Louis Jean is forced to run around and cover the Habs