Over the last seven months, the veteran Czech centerman cracked the Top 20 in franchise history in games played (843), goals (216), assists (337) and points (553), and further cemented his place as one of top players to ever sport the CH.
The 33-year-old also registered the sixth 50-point campaign (54) in his 12 seasons with the Canadiens. He finished among the Top 5 point-getters on the team for a seventh straight year, and found himself among the Top 5 goal-scorers for a 10th consecutive campaign, lighting the lamp 14 times while hitting the 40-assist mark for a third time, too.
That type of consistency isn’t something Plekanec takes for granted. While personal preparation, fitness and staying healthy has a lot to do with it, the Kladno native insists it’s also the by-product of being given plenty of good advice and direction from those charged with teaching him the intricacies of the game from the AHL on up.
“The key really is that I’ve always had coaches that preach consistency. Every coach is going to tell you that they want a consistent player that he knows he can depend on. It doesn’t necessarily need to be in terms of scoring goals, but your game has to be at a certain level. I’ve tried to focus on that since my first season in Hamilton [in 2002-03],” shared Plekanec, who has played under the likes of head coaches Claude Julien, Doug Jarvis, Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Jacques Martin, Randy Cunneyworth and Michel Therrien over the years.
“I’ve always been a guy that tries to listen to coaches and pay attention to what they have to say. They watch a lot of games and a lot of video so they know what hockey’s all about. When you try to apply that and you see it works out, you keep going and repeating [what they’ve been teaching you]. It’s still working,” added Plekanec, one of only 12 players to amass at least seven 20-goal seasons in a Canadiens uniform.
His teammates in Montreal have been an important teaching resource as well, educating the Canadiens’ No. 14 in the art of being a full-time NHLer and sharing some of the ingredients necessary for long-term success at hockey’s highest level.
“I played with a guy like Alex Kovalev. It was such a great experience. He’s so skilled. He won a Stanley Cup in New York [before joining us] and had a special kind of talent, a special kind of magic. I was very fortunate to play with him. We’re completely different people, but you take away anything you can from a player like that and go with it,” said Plekanec, who shared a locker room with the Russian sniper on a full-time basis between 2005 and 2009. “All the Czech guys I’ve played with were a big help and gave me so much also. Radek Bonk, Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek. They’re all winners. I was lucky.”
Lucky, yes, especially when Plekanec thinks back to the beginning of his career in North America when he admits climbing the Canadiens’ storied statistical ladder like that seemed almost improbable. Things certainly worked out for the best, though, and he’ll always be grateful for the opportunity that came his way when the Canadiens drafted him 71st overall back in 2001.
“I would never have dreamed of it when I started out. It’s definitely special doing it with an organization like this. Obviously, it goes with all the years I’ve spent here. When you play a lot of games, a lot of minutes, and put up some points, you’re going up that ladder. I’ve been with this team for a long time, so it means a lot,” said Plekanec, who sits 17th among all active NHL players for the longest tenure with a single NHL franchise. “It’s not easy to be on top of your game every single night, but I’ve been trying my best every year. Sometimes, it works out. Sometimes, it doesn’t. But, I’m definitely proud of it.”
When you’ve played in the NHL as long as Plekanec has, though, hitting milestones takes a backseat of sorts to finding any conceivable way to secure hockey’s top prize. That, according to the father of two, is what still separates him from the long list of impressive names he sits alongside in several key categories.
“It doesn’t really matter how high you get individually because all of those guys I’m passing on those ladders have a bunch of Stanley Cup wins in their pocket. That’s what hockey’s about, the Stanley Cup,” confided Plekanec, who has reached the Eastern Conference Finals twice during his tenure with the Canadiens, chipping in with 15 goals and 46 points in 81 postseason games along the way. “Those little things might be nice for some people. They’re definitely nice accomplishments, but it doesn’t mean that much if you don’t have those Cups to back it up.”
That being said, there’s nowhere else the Canadiens’ current iron man would like to help make a Stanley Cup parade happen than in the place he’s called his hockey home for over a decade. Last October, he signed a two-year contract extension through the 2017-18 campaign, which gives him at least a couple of more seasons to make that goal a reality.
Will it happen? Only time will tell. One thing’s for certain, though. The fans continue to inspire Plekanec in his quest to bring a championship back to Montreal sooner rather than later.
“You don’t play anywhere else in the league where the fans are so passionate. It’s a cliché. Everybody says that, but it’s so true,” concluded Plekanec, who will compete in the World Hockey Championships in Russia come May, and split his time the rest of the summer between the Czech Republic and Montreal. “I say that especially about this year when you see people coming to the rink every game and they’re still cheering even though they knew we were out of the playoffs. They’re still with us. All of that makes it a special place. I’ve always appreciated their support. It’s been a bad year, but it’s going to be better next year.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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