How can you top playing for Edmonton, Phoenix and Pittsburgh? How about playing for the Montreal Canadiens, the greatest professional team of all time, with the richest history and in your hometown to boot?
When the Canadiens called that summer, even though it was a tough decision to choose between Edmonton and Montreal, the bottom line was that I had the opportunity to play in my hometown and in front of my family. I couldn’t refuse. My mom had supported me my entire career and you can imagine how hard it was for her to cheer for me when I played for another team while she was living in Montreal. So when I became a free agent, I knew she and the rest of my family residing here would be happy with my decision.
Unfortunately, my first year didn't really go too well as I had to start dealing with injuries in training camp, and then later, a herniated disk in my back. At one point, I didn't just think that I needed surgery, I thought my career was over. I couldn't even move at times and was in terrible pain. Thankfully, because of the great work of our team medical staff, doctors and cortisone pills, I was able to play some games. Well, I ended up playing only 33 games. That was really disappointing for me and a lot of other people and I understand why. All summer there was this build-up about the Canadiens finally signing a tough guy and that’s all they ended up getting? Injuries are part of hockey but this was the first time in my 11-year career that I had to deal with so many. If I only had been able to stay healthy for the next two seasons in Montreal, this would have just been a bad dream.
You can imagine how much criticism I had to endure that year because I wasn't playing, because I was hurt or because I wasn't the same player I had been the year prior in Pittsburgh. In Montreal, hockey is like a religion and the team receives a lot of coverage. You hear everything, and I mean "everything", even if it's not true or if it becomes exaggerated. We, as players, understand it, so we have to ignore the press and do our job. Usually the most credible sources in the media who cover our team are the people actually in the room interviewing the players. This group also includes people who have previously coached in the NHL or have played the game. At the end of the day, you need a thick skin to play here, especially if you were born in this city. You do every interview in French and English and understand everything you hear in both languages which isn't always fun. This team hadn’t had a tough guy in a long time. So, from the beginning, people had different views about signing a heavyweight. The last legitimate tough guy the team had was Donald Brashear, frankly the toughest guy in the NHL, and he was pretty much run out of town. When I got there, I was ready for everything and to be honest, I was having fun with it as you probably already knew!!!
In my second year, things didn’t get much better. I was still hurt a lot and at the same time, I was playing for a coach that did not believe in fighting. So when there was a time for me to fight for the team, our coach Jacques Martin kept me on the bench. The dirty job didn’t get done. Some people thought I just didn’t want to fight anymore because they obviously didn’t know the truth. And that became a huge distraction to the team, to a point that on January 21th, 2010, the team released me and my contract got bought out that same summer. So that year, I only got to play 28 games.
Despite all that, I loved playing in Montreal. I loved the fans and still do. At the end of the day, I didn't care about negative comments from the media and I didn't read the papers or watch sports news on television. These stories are for the most part fiction designed to boost ratings or to sell papers. All I ever cared about when I stepped on the ice was the support of my teammates and fans. This is what drove me. Every time I stepped on the ice, I felt the support of the fans behind me and every time I fought, it gave me shivers to hear them screaming their lungs out standing on their feet. People can say whatever they want about my signing, but if you asked my teammates that I had at that time, they will tell you that they saw a major difference in the way teams played against us when I was part of the team. And it is for that reason Montreal signed me that summer!
While I played for the Montreal Canadiens, I got really involved in the community. I helped different charities in order to try and make a difference and to be a great role model for the local children. I got so involved with the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation that the team had to assign a person (Genevieve) to schedule all my appointments every week. The other three teams I played for also had to assign me someone in order to keep up with all my charitable endeavours. So at end, to retire as a Montreal Canadien, with 695 total games in the NHL, I have no regrets and feel fortunate to have played in the best league in the world!