I remember one time in my first year when I was living with Josh Gorges, we were driving to the rink and Gorgy made a comment that stuck with me.
He said he really felt like every hockey player should have the privilege of playing in Montreal at some point in their career.
I couldn't agree more.
Playing in the NHL is a privilege and anyone who plays in this League is already living out their dream, but for us to have the chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens, in front of fans who care as much as we do is special. There are a lot of loud rinks and great crowds around the NHL, but the Bell Centre is just different.
In Montreal, fans pack the place to watch us practice in the middle of the day on a weekday. On game nights, the Bell Centre is jammed for warm up. And that's just in the regular season. The playoffs in Montreal are on another level. The excitement and the energy and the atmosphere the fans bring is incredible. You can feel the whole city buzzing.
I'll never forget my first playoff game with the Canadiens. It was Game 1 against Ottawa in 2013 and I was sitting at my stall with about 10 minutes to go and the room was pretty quiet. I think everyone was a little nervous. You're in a bubble just thinking to yourself about what you need to do. We always leave the door open so we can hear the crowd, and with a few minutes to go, we could hear the video montage playing in the arena. The video ended and the fans absolutely erupted. They started a "Go Habs Go" chant that was so loud we could actually feel the roof vibrating. I was a 20-year-old kid playing my first playoff game at home. Coming out of the tunnel and stepping on the ice with everyone on their feet waving those towels was the most excited I've ever been to play a hockey game.
But when you play in Montreal, that's what it feels like every night.
The fans here are extremely passionate, but they're also very knowledgeable. It's not just the goal scorers who get attention here; fans pick up on and appreciate all the small details. They'll stand up and cheer for a good shot block, or if a guy makes a big play on the PK. They really appreciate the intangibles that go into winning.
I've heard people talk about the pressure that comes with playing in a market like ours, but I've always enjoyed the pressure here. Everyone is a little different. Some people just can't handle it, and that's fine, but some people thrive on it.
I put more pressure on myself to play well than anyone else possibly could. That comes from my dad. When I was growing up, he was never mad if I didn't score or if I didn't have any points. He would be mad at me if the effort wasn't there and if I let my teammates down that way. I've always had that attitude. When you put that pressure on yourself, outside pressure doesn't matter.
Losing isn't acceptable here and it isn't tolerated. We saw that this year. But for everyone in the organization, whether it's management, the coaches, or the players, the expectation is to win. Fans are included in that as well.
When you play for a franchise that's won an NHL-record 24 Stanley Cups, expectations are going to be high. This is a city that's had players like Jean Béliveau and Maurice Richard. You'll be at events and you'll get to talk to legends like Yvan Cournoyer, who won 10 Stanley Cups in Montreal, and he'll tell you he had to retire because he ran out of fingers for all those rings. To be able to pull on the same jersey as guys like them is something special.
The biggest thing you hear from those guys is what it's like to win in Montreal. I don't think there's a cooler city in the League you'd be able to have that celebration in.
Winning here would mean everything. That's why we play. You sacrifice and you do everything you can day in and day out and it's all so you can win a Stanley Cup and raise another banner in those rafters.
We know it won't be easy and we know there will need to be changes, but we're a confident group. We're confident because we have a great locker room here. Years like the one we just had are the ones where you realize it the most. No one ever started pointing fingers. If anything, we pulled closer together. With the guys we have, we really enjoy coming to the rink every day and growing together as a group.
We have a good mix, too. We have some great veteran leaders and some young guys who are just about to enter their prime.
Then there's Carey Price.
Carey Price is Carey Price. In our minds, he's the best goaltender in the world. You can't win the ultimate prize without having a great goalie, but he's also a real leader in our group. He's such a calming presence. There's craziness going on around him and he's still always so even keel.
The experience he had at the Olympics in 2014 when he and Shea won gold with Team Canada has taken them a long way. Both of those guys embody a winning attitude and a winning culture. They bring it with them everywhere they go. There are just intangibles you need from your leadership group in order to win, and those guys have them. They're leaders in the way that they pull guys along and bring the best out in everyone they're around.
As a player, you want management and ownership to believe in you. They believe in us. Now it's going to be up to us to go out and get the job done.
There are a lot of different things that go into deciding where to play - family, contracts - but when it comes down to it, the biggest thing any hockey player wants is a winning culture and the Montreal Canadiens have done that better than anyone in the history of the NHL.
Why wouldn't you want to be a part of that?