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Spacek, Muller Return to Montreal

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Jaroslav Spacek and his wife were at a local coffee establishment in December. His family, still living in Montreal, had come down to visit over the holidays.

Michael Smith
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“This is great,” he recalled her saying, as they sat down uninterrupted for coffee.

Spacek enjoys the easy-going atmosphere of the Triangle. For the 37-year-old defenseman, it’s just what he needed after spending just over two seasons in the media microscope that is Montreal.

Does he miss it?

“Not really.” He paused. “Well, the city, yeah. And my family.”

His teammates, too. Spacek said he’s had dinner with a few and talked to others on the phone and through texting since he was traded.

“But, I think they have their own issues right now, so I don’t want to disturb them too much,” he said.

That’s nothing new, though. It’s all a part of what makes Montreal a unique and perhaps the most storied hockey city in the League. Players frequently list the Bell Centre as their favorite building to play in. And despite the fact that Spacek doesn’t really miss the unrelenting pressure, it’s an experience he was glad to be a part of.

It was just time to move on. Caught in a numbers game on defense and hampered by injury, Spacek knew he wouldn’t be resigned at the conclusion of the season. The Canadiens, he said, were going “a different way with different guys.”

“For me, it was better to go somewhere else,” he said. “I didn’t expect to go so early, but it happened, and I’m pretty happy with that.”

Spacek came to the Hurricanes via trade on Dec. 9 in exchange for defenseman Tomas Kaberle. It was a move primarily designed to move Kaberle’s cumbersome contract, but in return, the Canes got an affable, veteran presence for a young locker room.

Spacek quickly endeared himself with 3 points (1g, 2a) in as many games and his buoyant personality.

“There’s not that much pressure from a media standpoint and stuff like that,” he said. “When I joined this group, the coaches started to push the guys more – I don’t know how it was before. But now, I think we can play against anybody. We skate, and we do the little things right.”

In early January, Spacek suffered another injury setback when he took a puck to the face. That sidelined him for seven games, another frustrating sequence in an admittedly injury-riddled season.

“When you’re a 37-year-old, you don’t heal as fast as when you were in your twenties,” he said.
“I felt good before the season. I had a good training camp, but then I got hurt in the second game of the season. Came back, played another couple of games and got hurt again. That didn’t really help me. Get here, and then get hit in the face – twice.

“But, I’m healthy now, and that’s the good thing. I hope to finish the season like that.”

A veteran defenseman who is a pending unrestricted free agent, Spacek makes for a perfect “rental player” candidate as the trade deadline nears. His name is included among the top defensemen available, and his pedigree is backed by a Stanley Cup Final appearance with the Edmonton Oilers.

He isn’t focusing much on that at the moment and would much rather focus on the team he is with currently – the Hurricanes. He was quick to point out the team’s growth over a couple of months.

“We were losing lots of games by one goal,” he said of the team’s performance in December. “That’s tough, and it doesn’t give you a lot of confidence. Now the guys can see we can win those games, too, and that’s a little light at the end of the tunnel that you can see.”

Monday will mark Spacek’s first appearance back in Montreal, and he knows what to expect.

“It will be a little crazy,” he said.

If that media scrum will be wild, just wait for head coach Kirk Muller’s. This will be the celebrated alumnus’ first return to the city he coached in for five seasons and played in for four. In 1993, he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Canadiens, forever cementing himself in Montreal lore. Last year, Muller took part in the Heritage Classic Alumni Game

Before leaving for the road trip, Muller wouldn’t say much about his return to Montreal.

“It will be interesting,” he said, laughing. “I just sold my house last week, so I can’t even stay there.

Muller said he will be moving into his new house in Raleigh this week – “cutting the cords,” as he put it.

While he’s cutting ties in that sense, Muller still has family in the Montreal area. His hometown of Kingston, Ontario is just southwest of Montreal, and he expects to see relatives during the team’s time in Canada.

“My mother, brothers and sisters will probably come up,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of family that will be popping into Montreal, for sure.”

Spacek will also carve out some personal time around practices and a game. While his family came down to North Carolina to visit in December, they decided to keep his son in school in Montreal. So, it's been awhile since he's seen them.

“It’s something I’m looking forward to,” he said, the anticipation clearly visible.

Media mayhem aside, that’s what the return to Montreal will ultimately be about.

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