Since establishing himself in Quebec last year, Montreal Impact defender Laurent Ciman hasn’t wasted any time adapting to the lifestyle in his brand new surroundings. A native of Belgium, where he was a dominant force for years before making his debut in North America in 2015, “The General” didn’t have any trouble fitting in on this side of the pond both on and off the playing field. It certainly helped that he had a passion for the Montreal Canadiens, of course, upon arrival. A hockey fan since childhood, and more recently a Canadiens supporter whose love for the team continues to grow with every passing day, we recently sat down with the former MLS Defender of the Year to learn more about his affection for the bleu-blanc-rouge.
Were you at all familiar with the Canadiens before arriving in Quebec last year?
LAURENT CIMAN: I’d already watched two shows back home in Belgium that talked about the Canadiens. One talked about the team, the players, and just how important the Canadiens are to Montreal. They’re a mythical team. The second was all about Tim Bozon, his illness, and how he battled to overcome it. That helped me become familiar with the Canadiens before getting here, and I was well aware of Bozon’s story. I had the chance to meet him when I got to Montreal, and we’ve built a friendship along the way. So, I arrived in somewhat familiar territory, so to speak.
How did you and Tim become friends?
LC: It wasn’t tough to meet him because he knew my agent. The three of us talked on Twitter. I told Tim that I saw the show about him, and later on we went out to eat together. I always enjoy talking to him on the phone and seeing him when I can.
If we had you play hockey and had Tim play soccer, who would be better at the other person’s primary sport?
LC: Him at soccer without a doubt because I’ve only put on skates once in my life. It would be a lot easier for him to be on the field than it would be for me out there on the ice.
How did that on-ice experience go?
LC: I tried it once before, but I was wearing figure skates. (Laughs) That’s when I told myself that I wouldn’t go back on the ice again. I was also worried about my fingers being cut off. (Laughs)
We heard that you played street hockey as a kid growing up in Belgium…
LC: Back then, there were some really good hockey players at my school. We played from time to time when we had days off. My parents didn’t want me to focus on soccer alone because I might lose interest in it. That’s why I played hockey. I was comfortable on rollerblades. I skated well, but it was still a long way from what you see NHL players do on TV.
Were you a more offensive or defensive-minded player like you are in soccer?
LC: Unlike on a soccer field, I had more offensive skills. On the other hand, having only played for about two years, I wouldn’t be the most skilled player with a stick these days. (Laughs) I’m still first and foremost a soccer player.
Did you ultimately fall in love with the Canadiens on your first visit to the Bell Centre last year?
LC: I was expecting all sorts of things before my first game at the Bell Centre. It was all new to me and I was really looking forward to being there. I went with my wife. Like anything, either you love it or you don’t. When you’re there, you hear the sounds coming from ice level really well, the game goes a lot faster, and when there’s a goal the place erupts. I really loved it. My wife found it a little too violent. She prefers that I play soccer. She appreciated the entertainment side of things that night.
Have you been back since that first visit?
LC: I went back a few times with one of my friends who has tickets in the section where the food is free. It’s always fun to eat every now and again and watch a hockey game at the same time. (Laughs) I really enjoy going to games with him and it’s a really good way to spend some time with friends.
How does the ambiance at the Bell Centre compare to what you’ve experienced in certain soccer stadiums in Europe?
LC: Soccer will always be soccer. I didn’t know what the ambiance at a hockey game was like. It’s definitely louder than a basketball game or certain soccer games. What’s good about Canadiens fans is that they stick around from start to finish and they always respect the players, even when times are tough. Last season was a good example of that. Hockey games are always sold out, but in soccer things depend on how the club is performing. That has a direct effect on attendance.
Have some players really caught your eye?
LC: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s Carey Price. When I was younger, I’d often watch a cartoon about soccer called The Olive et Tom . The goalie on the team was named Thomas Price. He was very strong and he was also the best player. When I went to the Bell Centre and I saw that the goaltender’s last name was Price, I thought of him. I’ve also come to appreciate guys like Markov, Gallagher, Galchenyuk and Pacioretty.
Since arriving in Montreal, we’ve noticed that you’re one our most active followers on social media. Where did that interest come from?
LC: We really love Montreal, the Impact just as much as the Canadiens. The players and fans of both teams, and the Alouettes, too, need to be united. The sports scene in Montreal would only benefit from it.
Georges Laraque offered you a personalized Canadiens jersey over the last few weeks. Are you two friends?
LC: It was just pure coincidence. He added me on Twitter. He sent me a private message telling me that I was his favorite Impact player and that he liked my playing style. I thanked him and told him that he was very good on the radio. I never found out how he knew where I lived, but he sent a jersey to my agent who gave it to my wife. I got it when I came back from the EURO 2016 tournament.
Have you started to proudly wear it around town?
LC: Not yet. It’s still too hot outside to wear a long-sleeved shirt. I’ll definitely put it on when I go to a game at the Bell Centre, though.
If you had received it before departing for EURO 2016, would you have worn it in France?
LC: Unfortunately, I didn’t get it in time. But, if someone asked me to pose with it on in France, I would have been happy to do it.
Interview conducted by Hugo Fontaine. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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