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Boivin has been planning centennial for years

Tuesday, 12.02.2008 / 11:42 PM / History

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"Not only have we won 24 championships, we've won one every decade and we haven't won one this decade. That's a world record of consistency. I feel a lot of pressure. I don't want to be the only president who presides for 10 years that doesn't have a Cup."
-- Pierre Boivin

As Montreal Canadiens President Pierre Boivin watches the days tick off the calendar, he can't help smiling.

All the pomp and circumstances, all the celebration surrounding the team's centennial season is the culmination of four years of planning and work.

"We're thrilled," Boivin told NHL.com, "and yet all we've done is set the table. We haven't started the centennial year. That starts Dec. 4."

If this season has a bit of a French-Canadian tinge to it, it's because the Canadiens have turned the 2008-09 season into a celebration of all things bleu blanc et rouge. As the first NHL franchise to reach its 100th birthday, it's entitled to a major party.

Three of the candles on the cake are three of the biggest events on the NHL calendar -- the 2009 All-Star Game, the 2009 Entry Draft and the 2009 NHL Awards Show.

And that doesn't include a number of Canadiens-centric events and merchandise that celebrate the rich history of the winningest club in League history.

All of the fun, though, started during the darkest days of 2004-05, the season that never was.

In November 2004, Boivin met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and presented a multi-year plan to build up to this season, which would be centered on all things Canadiens.

"We said we're going to take this year off and program the death out of this thing," Boivin said. "We want to be hockey-centric, so we're asking you to consider us for the All-Star Game, the draft and the awards ceremony. We're going to come out of the lockout and announce a centennial countdown. We realize the risk in running this for four years, but this sport needs something to hang on to.

"We said that we're going to be a locomotive that's going to be looking forward."

That train has helped pull along a marketing bonanza, starting with celebrations for eight members of the team's great history.

* No. 12 was retired Nov. 12, 2005 to honor Dickie Moore and Yvan Cournoyer.

* No. 5 was retired March 11, 2006 for Bernie Geoffrion.

* Serge Savard's No. 18 was added to the rafters Nov. 18. 2006.

* No. 29 for Ken Dryden was retired Jan. 29, 2007.

* Larry Robinson's No. 19 was retired Nov. 19, 2007.

* Bob Gainey's No. 23 was honored Feb. 23.

* Patrick Roy and his No. 33 joined the club Nov. 22.

The team's general managers and coaches also have been honored on special Builders' nights.

Next on the list is the much-anticipated opening of Centennial Plaza at the Bell Centre. The open-air area will feature monuments to the greatest players in club history, and feature 20,000 bricks that fans can buy and personalize.

That same day, the Canadiens will launch their outdoor rink program, which will see the club, along with the Canadiens Children's Foundation, construct five outdoor ice rinks in the Montreal area.

"We wanted this program to have a strong legacy on the community," Boivin said. "We committed to put up five extraordinary outdoor rinks in the five poorest communities in Montreal. That's a centennial legacy from the foundations."

Hosting the All-Star Game, which will be held Jan. 24-25, also is a large part of the celebration.

"I think it's very important (to host)," Boivin said. "It's important for Montreal, but it's more important for the players, for them to see and live and sense the centennial … for the rest of the League I think it's very important."

 
 
It's a similar feeling to hosting the draft, which was held for the first time at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal in 1963, and remained in Montreal every year until 1985.

"It brings back the history of the fact that it used to be headquartered here," Boivin said. "It's all the teams converging on Montreal midway through the centennial year and celebrating the sport."

Beyond the planned events has been the release of a cornucopia of goodies for Canadiens fans. There will be 12 retro sweaters players will wear in games this season and fans will be able to buy them, plus books, films, DVDs, clothing, commemorative coins and postage stamps and a special edition of Monopoly.

"We're up to 10 books, five documentary shows, two large-scale TV quiz shows, a feature film, a short animated film for children with a story book," said Boivin. "A sports film, which is a year in the life with the Canadiens, three sets of DVDs."

The one event not planned -- but hoped for -- is another Stanley Cup. Boivin said winning one during the centennial season could eclipse any of the previous 24 Stanley Cup celebrations.
"I don't think Montreal has ever seen how powerful the fan passion is. We saw it in the playoffs last year. And on top of that it's the centennial year, the fact we haven't won in 15 years." -- Pierre Boivin
"I think it would be absolutely wild," Boivin said. "I don't think Montreal has ever seen how powerful the fan passion is. We saw it in the playoffs last year. And on top of that it's the centennial year, the fact we haven't won in 15 years. The fact that Guy (Carbonneau) is behind the bench, yeah, it would be pretty special. He's the last captain to have won it. The stars are aligned."

A Stanley Cup would be even more personal to Boivin, who has been on the job since 1999 and has a strong grasp on the history of the franchise for which he works.

"Not only have we won 24 championships, we've won one every decade and we haven't won one this decade," Boivin said. "That's a world record of consistency. I feel a lot of pressure. I don't want to be the only president who presides for 10 years that doesn't have a Cup."

That won't happen until June at the earliest. For now, Boivin said he's concentrating on the present, which keeps him busy enough.

"We have so many things we have to execute and they have to be executed well," he said. "Now we're just going to knock them down one at a time."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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