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Tanguay returns home to play for 'hated' Canadiens

Thursday, 12.11.2008 / 11:00 AM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

Alex Tanguay said it felt like he was in the Twilight Zone. The voice on the other end of the phone sent a message that just didn't compute.
"It will be great having you and Helene and the kids so close to home, but ..."
Alex Tanguay was laughing when he recalled the first conversation he had with his dad after he had been traded home to "LaBelle Province" from the Calgary Flames to Montreal on draft day for first-, second- and sixth-round draft choices. The pause in Mr. Tanguay's message was important, because he added, "You know your grandfather did a flip in his grave when he heard you had been traded to the Canadiens."
Say what? A French-Canadian kid returning to Quebec and not doing handstands? What's the deal? Well, when Alex Tanguay was growing up in nearby Ste. Justine, an hour away from Montreal, he was not a Canadiens fan. Far from it, in fact.
"I really, really hated them," he said. "The Quebec Nordiques were grandfather's team, they were my father's team and they were my team. My grandfather had season tickets at Le Colisee and he'd take me to 10-15 games each year. Peter Stastny was my favorite player. But I also loved Joe Sakic and Michel Goulet and the rest of the Nordiques."
And back in the day, this rivalry was a hot as it gets. There was no fence straddling. You either rooted for the Nordiques or the Candaiens. No wiggle room.

"There was no in-between," Tanguay said. "It was almost like war between fans of those two teams back in the 1980s and '90s. I had friends who were Montreal fans and every time we'd go to the bus stop the day before and day after the Nordiques played the Canadiens, you wouldn't believe the trash talk."
It was at that point that Alex admitted that since the Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche for the 1995-96 season, that the declaration of war within Quebec was probably forgotten by most. Still, a little hatred in sports ... well, it just adds spice to a rivalry, eh?
Tanguay, 28, is now living the best of both worlds. He was drafted by the Avalanche (first round, No. 12, in the 1998 Entry Draft), got to play on the same team with Sakic, plus he scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for the Avs in 2001 and has topped the 70-point mark in four of his eight NHL seasons while playing for Colorado and Calgary.
Right from the start, Tanguay and captain/center Saku Koivu clicked in Montreal. That has helped in what could have been a difficult transition. In fact, in Alex's first 15 games, he led the Canadiens in goals with 8 and in points with 17. Through 25 games, Tanguay has 9 goals and 11 assists.
In this, the 100th anniversary season of the Montreal Canadiens, Tanguay shakes his head and says while it may sound strange, "Growing up a Nordiques fan, I wasn't as much aware of the tradition of the Canadiens. But a lot of years have passed since the Nordiques left. I guess the war is over and I'm learning to respect what this jersey is all about."

"I really, really hated them. The Quebec Nordiques were grandfather's team, they were my father's team and they were my team. My grandfather had season tickets at Le Colisee and he'd take me to 10-15 games each year. Peter Stastny was my favorite player. But I also loved Joe Sakic and Michel Goulet and the rest of the Nordiques."
-- Alex Tanguay

Still ...
"When I looked at myself in the mirror in a Canadiens jersey for the first time, I had to do a double-take," he laughed. "It looked strange."
But time changes a lot of things -- like Alex Tanguay, the Nordiques fan, rooming in the basement of Montreal Canadiens hero Patrick Roy when the two played together in Denver.

In the end, however, Tanguay admitted he was unhappy with his role in Calgary -- no power play and mainly a defensive assignment under coach Mike Keenan. He asked Flames GM Darryl Sutter to trade him last Christmas. A potential trade to Montreal was discussed then.
"I can't hide it," Tanguay said. "I'm a little worried because I know how much pressure there can be on Quebecois playing in Quebec. But I'm confident at the same time. It's a very good organization. The way the team plays, it fits perfectly with my style. They finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, so it's obviously a very good team. I don't have to go there and be Mario Lemieux or Guy Lafleur. I just need to do what I can do to help the team. It's an ideal situation.
"I had a no-trade clause, so if I didn't want to play with the Canadiens, I could have said no. But the Canadiens are a team going in the right direction."
What makes Alex Tanguay so productive is his combination of a natural center's playmaking instincts and a scorer's touch from the wing.
Canadiens GM Bob Gainey sees Tanguay as the perfect fit for his club.

"Alex is a gifted offensive player," Gainey said. "He suits a position of need we have as a winger and a top player. We are a team that likes to play on offense and play on the attack with skill. He fits in with our group of players, and he's a local guy from the province of Quebec. At 28 you can still see longevity in him. It's a nice fit."
"He skates well and has great hands," said Koivu, who has provided good chemistry with Tanguay. "Sometimes you just feel confident with certain players. I don't know how else to describe it."
"I'm not coming here to be the savior," Tanguay said. "I'm just hoping to add a little to the firepower and help them improve on what caused them to fall a little short in the playoffs last year."
Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares