Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Soviet Canuckistan — Socialist paradise
Local Time: 06:58 AM
Gainey stands tall among the very best
RED FISHER, The Gazette
Published: 12 hours ago
The noise started the instant Bob Gainey appeared on the giant screen, his back to the camera, and walking with slow, measured steps along the hallway leading to the ice. Seventy-five seconds later, he paused briefly, as if he were trying to breathe in the atmosphere of this grand night when his No. 23 would be raised to the Bell Centre rafters, and now there was no longer a crowd in the arena, but a roar engulfing it.
"Gainey! Gainey! Gainey!"
Seconds later, the noise made ears ring at the Bell because Gainey - in full uniform, including shoulder pads and skates - was on the ice, stick raised now and then, skating one full turn of the ice surface. And now the people ... his people were on their feet:
"Gainey! Gainey! Gainey!"
It was all about Gainey on a night his Canadiens would take on the Columbus Blue Jackets ... about an icon who played 16 seasons with the team, eight as captain.
It was all about a guy who did things his way as a player, such as celebrating this night in full uniform and calling on a long-time friend, Christine Pickrell, to introduce him en anglais and his sister Maureen, the delightful mother of seven children, to introduce him in French.
All about a winner of five Stanley Cups, four in a row in the late 70s and another in 1986, members of which were seated on the ice wearing their Canadiens jerseys.
The walk through the hallway was a short one, but almost 35 years have passed since he started on this journey on a hot, June afternoon in 1973.
"Who did the Canadiens take in the draft?" a colleague at the Montreal Star was asked.
"A kid named Gainey ... Bob Gainey."
"They say he was a pretty good defensive player with the Peterborough juniors."
"Never heard of him."
"I guess (Canadiens GM Sam) Pollock did," was the reply.
Nobody ever has been more right about a player. He made defence and punishing bodychecks fashionable among NHL forwards. He controlled games. He was as much of a winner and a game-breaker as any of those skaters with 50-goal seasons and winners of individual trophies whose jersey numbers preceded Gainey's to the Bell rafters.
He was simply the very best at what he did.
This good: "The best all-around player in the world," was the way Soviet national team head coach Viktor Tikhonov once said of him.
This great: "Character and complete," was the way Minnesota Wild president and general manager Doug Risebrough described him when he was asked yesterday to sum up in 25 words or less what Gainey, the player, meant to the Canadiens.
"How many more words do I have?" he asked with a laugh. "Bob gave the power defensive player a status to be important on teams. Before, they were just checkers. All of a sudden Gainey was on board. He could skate and he could play against the top lines and score a little bit. In a lot of ways, we are all still looking for guys like that," said Risebrough.
"When Bob saw something wrong, everybody sat up and listened. How would I describe Gainey the player?" asked Chris Nilan. "Determined. A rock."
"I never played on a line with him, but I don't think I would have liked to play against him," said Mats Naslund, who delivered 110 points in that '86 season.
Brian Skrudland: "Before you can say anything about him as a player, you've got to talk about Gainey, the person. I can't say enough about him for what he did for me ... for the young guys on the team. He made us feel important ... that it was important for us to feel that way if we were going to win as a team. ''
There were other accolades for this one-of-a-kind player and human being on the giant screen, from players unable to make the trip to Montreal. Patrick Roy, for example, who is being touted as the next player whose number will be retired. There were words of admiration as well from Boston's Gerry Cheevers.
There were moments last night when the good man Nilan calls a rock had to fight tears. Not once, several times during the minutes-long ovation he received from his adoring crowd and, surely, when his number was raised to the Bell roof.
This memorable day started with a noon brunch. His two daughters, Anna and Colleen were there, and so was his son, Steve. His four sisters and one of his two brothers were there among well over 100 guests which included friends from the long ago past from both here and abroad.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was there.
Others were there in spirit: his wife Cathy, dead at 39 after a lengthy battle with cancer, his daughter Laura, 25, a crew member of a Lunenberg-based tall ship who was swept into the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean by a rogue wave on a black Friday in early December, 2006.
Memories ... so many memories ... of the many high and the few low points of his matchless career, of Cathy and of his darling Laura who, as a 14-year-old, fell into a deep depression after her mother's tragic death. Laura, who plummeted into the wretched, mind-bending culture of hash, marijuana, acid and speed. She was only a teenager, but in her mind these terrible drugs were the only way out.
"What she was doing was burying feelings of anger and depression," Gainey once told me in a gripping, one-on-one interview. "Anger over her mother's illness. Isolation. Abandonment. The kids, I think, take something like what happened to Cathy ... as being deserted. They know on a conscious level that their mother didn't ... wouldn't desert them, that the last thing in the world she'd want to do is leave them."
"Like most families, we've had our good times and bad times," said his son Steve. "He's been our pillar of strength during the hard times. We can go to him with a problem, and he's there for us. He's a loving father. He's given us the care we needed."
What Gainey also has done is deflect attention he's received on and off the ice - and he was hard at work doing it yesterday. It's not about him, he insisted, it's about others such a long-time linemate Doug Jarvis, who's worked with and for Gainey for years, and about Guy Carbonneau - people he waved to stand along with him when his No. 23 was about to be raised to the rafters.
The Bob Gainey who was saluted yesterday for all of the right reasons is a man of many colours, not the least being that he always was aware of what he had to do as a player as well as knowing what he wanted to do after his career was over.
Gainey was on the telephone during a Canadiens visit to Boston. "Got a minute?" he asked. "I've got something I'd like to talk to you about."
"Come on up," he was told.
A few minutes later: "I'm thinking about going after the general manager's job in Minnesota. I was wondering what's the best way to go about it."
Gainey was in his 15th season with the Canadiens. He was 35. In his mind, he had done everything he wanted to do as a player. Time to move on.
"The first thing you do is you don't do a thing until you tell Serge (Canadiens GM Savard) what you've got in mind. You don't approach the North Stars directly. You can't. Get someone to talk to them quietly just to let them know you're interested."
"I guess you know this isn't the right time to write about this," said Gainey. "I mean ... I don't have to tell you why."
"I know why," I said. "I can sit on this for a little while, but if I hear a word about it from someone else, I'm going with it."
People in my business get burned now and then holding back on a story. It hurts for the short term, but it's a small price to pay for the long term. Gainey had provided me with a flood of stories during his career. He was always there - win or lose. He had earned many times over the small favour he was asking.
Some weeks later, Gainey brought up the matter. "A
reporter called me about it yesterday. Go ahead with it," he said. The story appeared in The Gazette the next day and, as you'd expect, the media mob descended on Savard. Was it true? What did he think of his team captain applying for the GM's job in Minnesota?
"It's news to me," said Savard, who had known about it for many weeks. "I hope Fisher is right. I'll get compensation for Gainey," he said with a laugh.
As it developed, Gainey didn't get the job. He played a 16th season with the Canadiens, then left for France where he took on a playing-coach's job. The following year, he was behind the North Stars bench and led Minnesota into the Stanley Cup final.
Eight seasons later, Dallas Stars GM Gainey watched his Stars win the Stanley Cup.