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Hab at Heart: Jonathan Duhamel

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Poker player Jonathan Duhamel garnered international acclaim by capturing the World Series of Poker Main Event title back in 2010 in Las Vegas. When the 27-year-old Boucherville native isn't making his opponents pay for their mistakes at poker tables the world over, he's following every move his beloved Canadiens make back home and on the road. We recently caught up with Quebec's most recognized card shark, who claimed his second career WSOP Gold Bracelet in late June, to learn more about his love for the CH.

How long have you been a Habs fan?
I’ve been a Habs fan since I was born. One of my first memories is the 1993 Stanley Cup win. I was born in 1987, so I didn’t get to see the 1986 Stanley Cup victory. I remember one of the first times my dad, Luc, brought me to the Forum back in the day. It was the only time I saw a game there. I was probably five years old. I remember we beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime. Ever since then, I’ve been a Habs fan. We had some pretty good seats. That was really the first time that I got to see all the people watching the game and how everyone was so passionate about the game and about the team. I think at that point I really became a Habs fan. My dad was trying to give me an appreciation for the sport of hockey. Then, you grow up watching the sport and you get hooked right away.

Was your room full of Canadiens gear as a kid?
I had a couple of things, I guess. I don’t remember that much, but I probably had a bunch of T-shirts and a bunch of posters, too. If I remember correctly, I think I had a Patrick Roy poster and an Eric Desjardins cap back then. Those are the two things I probably remember the most.

Were Patrick Roy and Eric Desjardins your favorite players?
I guess so. I’ve always played defense. I wasn’t a huge Eric Desjardins fan, but I guess that’s why I always liked to see defensemen do well. Patrick Roy was just so amazing during the 1993 Stanley Cup run. With Patrick in goal, they couldn’t lose. He was just so good.

What about defensemen really intrigued you?
I’m not exactly sure. When I was playing, I guess I was just better at defense. I guess I just grew up playing a bit more defense than offense. I don’t know why. My dad played defense, too, so that might have been one of the reasons why.

Did you enjoy playing hockey as a youngster?
JD: It was everything to me. I wasn’t the best, but it was so much fun to play. I think I started playing when I was four years old. I played in Boucherville. I didn’t play at that high a level, though. I played double letters, mostly. We had six different teams in Boucherville, so we just played against the same guys all the time. I played every single year until I was 18.

You must’ve played plenty of street hockey, too. Right?
Of course, especially during the summer. I played outside with all of my friends. Whenever a car came by, we’d yell – “Car!” – and move the net to let it pass by. It was fun. I didn’t skate outdoors very much, though. I think that’s something I missed out on, playing with buddies on the outdoor rink. I tried to play as much as I could back when I was a kid. I think I play more now than I used to. I’m way more of a fan now than I was before. I can’t miss any games now. I’ve got the NHL app that lets you watch games from anywhere in the world. I travel so much. Whether I’m overseas in Europe or on the West Coast, I’ll always find a way to watch. It’s tough sometimes because of the time difference, but in Europe it’s kind of perfect for us because the game usually starts around 1 a.m. We usually play poker until midnight and then the game starts when we’re done.

Tell us about some of the more unusual places you’ve watched the Canadiens on TV.
When Jaroslav Halak was doing so well in 2010, especially during the playoff run, I was traveling across Europe with a friend of mine. We went to Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, and other cities, too. In every one of those places, we’d find a Canadiens bar that would show the games. Anywhere you go, you’ll always find a bar that’s going to show Canadiens games. It will almost be like the only place in the city where you can watch hockey.

People know you’re a dedicated Habs fan. Do they sometimes ask you to share your thoughts on the team?
That happens all the time, not just in Montreal, but while I’m traveling, too. People know I’m a hockey fan. They know a good way to approach me is to talk about the Habs or hockey, in general. It’s a very good way to break the ice.

Nowadays, how often do you get to the Bell Centre?
I don’t get over there as much as I’d like to. In 2013-14, I was pretty good. I think I went eight or nine times. This past season, I think I made it to five games. But, I’ve watched the Habs on the road in San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Ottawa. Sometimes, if it fits with the schedule and the Habs are in town, I’ll do my best to get to the Bell Centre.

Is hockey a big topic of conversation among poker players on tour?
I’d say so. It really depends on where certain players are from. There are a lot of American players. All of those guys are mostly basketball or football fans. Hockey is big with the Canadians. The European guys also enjoy it, though. There are some players from Finland and Sweden. But, as far as Canadians go, there’s a big rivalry with the guys from Toronto. They’re all good friends of ours, but we tend to make fun of them because of how the Maple Leafs are doing. It’s kind of a funny banter that’s been going on for years now.

Speaking of the Maple Leafs, isn’t fellow Canadian poker star Daniel Negreanu a huge fan of the Canadiens’ Original Six rivals?
Of course. He’s the biggest hockey fan there is, especially when it comes to the Maple Leafs. That’s why he’s pushing so hard to have a team in Las Vegas. That way, he’ll have another team to cheer for. It’s funny, though. We had a pretty big bet in 2013-14. We bet $10,000 on who would finish higher in the regular season, the Maple Leafs or the Canadiens. I’ve made similar bets with other friends, too. Daniel is really passionate. He keeps telling me about his hockey pool and I tell him about mine. It’s pretty funny. He knows his hockey really well. He’s actually really good friends with Phil Kessel. Over the years, he’s come to realize that the Canadiens are way, way better than the Maple Leafs, so he doesn’t want to make any more bets with me.

Take us back to playing at the final table at the 2010 World Series of Poker. What was it like seeing all those Habs jerseys in the stands?
JD: It made everything so special. It helped me play. The support of the fans over there was so big for me. At some point, you lose a couple of hands and then you look in the stands and you see 200 people wearing Habs jerseys. It was amazing. You get a momentum boost right away. Going in, we were trying to find a way for people to all look the same. I knew everybody had a Habs jersey back home. It was as simple as that. I think it was the best way to represent who we were. I’ll never forget my friends chanting. Instead of “Go Habs Go,“, they were saying “DU-HA-MEL.” The feeling was incredible. It was like I was on a breakaway at the Bell Centre and the whole building was cheering my name. I had that same feeling at the final table.

Have you ever played poker with any current players?
JD: I’ve met a bunch of the guys briefly, but I haven’t played with any of them. I’ve played with Michel Therrien, though. That was a lot of fun. I think he’s just as passionate playing poker as he is coaching his team. He really gets into it. He really wants to win. That’s what was fun about it. We were playing on L’Antichambre on RDS . We might’ve been playing for fun, but he wanted to win. I remember he got knocked out first and there were only four of us playing. I think Guy Carbonneau was there, along with P.J. Stock and Michel Bergeron. Michel Therrien got so mad about losing. It was just so funny to see, because we weren’t even playing for money.

Do you think there’s more strategy involved in poker or hockey?
Wow! They’re very similar. It’s probably hockey, though. It’s tough to say, because both of them have the luck factor involved. I think the luck factor is a little bit higher in poker. In hockey, the luck factor can be pretty big, too. Over the course of a season or a playoff series, the skill factor is definitely going to come into play. In poker, though, if you don’t have the cards, there isn’t much you can do about it. In hockey, there’s always more you can do to help your team win.

How about a few rapid fire questions? What poker hand would best describe Carey Price?
When it comes to Carey, it’s going to be aces because it’s the best hand. Right now, that describes him perfectly because he’s the best player in the world.

Who best represents a royal flush?
JD: That wouldn’t be a player. I’m going to go with GM Marc Bergevin. He’s the man in charge of everything that happens. He’s kind of the master of them all.

Which current Habs player would be the hardest to read at a poker table?
It would have to be Brendan Gallagher. He’d frustrate you so much. You wouldn’t know what to do or how to react to how he’s playing because he’d be doing so well. He gets in your head. You’d get mad and you’d start making mistakes.

Which current Habs player would make the perfect bluffer?
Without a doubt, it’s Andrei Markov. Nobody knows what he’s thinking.

How about the best dealer? Who would that be?
JD: David Desharnais. He passes the puck so well.

Lastly, tell us about your involvement with the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation.
It was kind of a no-brainer. When I was on Tout le monde en parle in 2010, I said that if I won the World Series of Poker, I was going to give $100,000 to the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation. There were a bunch of friends chipping in, too. I knew I wanted to give back any way I could. The Foundation does great work. It’s a really good initiative. It was a no-brainer that I was going to give some form of charity. The fact that we were all out there at the World Series of Poker in Habs jerseys just clinched it. There was that natural connection with the Foundation. I felt like I was representing Quebec over there. I feel like the Canadiens represent Quebec as a whole. It was a very easy decision to donate that money. I’d do it again, too.

Interview conducted by Matt Cudzinowski.

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