Turgeon's dream job didn't last long enough

Kenn Oliver
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Was Canadiens' captain for just over 100 games

It's not always easy being a member of the Montreal Canadiens. But there's no denying how special it is to suit up for the beloved and storied NHL franchises.

"When I played for Montreal, it was unbelievable," says former Hab and 19-year NHL veteran Pierre Turgeon.

Four-time NHL all-star Pierre Turgeon was at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay Thursday to conduct on- and off-ice training with the St. John's Caps boys and girls peewee teams which won the chance through the Scotiabank NHL Alumni Skill contest. - Photo by

It's not always easy being a member of the Montreal Canadiens. But there's no denying how special it is to suit up for the beloved and storied NHL franchises.

"When I played for Montreal, it was unbelievable," says former Hab and 19-year NHL veteran Pierre Turgeon.

"I grew up seven hours north (of Montreal, in Rouyn-Noranda), that's what we saw growing up and I dreamt about playing for them. On the street, we were all Guy Lafleur. Putting that jersey on, you flash back to playing on the street as a Montreal Canadien."

The four-time All-star was at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay on Thursday to conduct on- and off-ice training with the St. John's Caps boys and girls peewee teams which won the chance through the Scotiabank NHL Alumni Skill Contest. Other NHLers involved in the program across the country included Gary Roberts, Trevor Linden and Darryl Sittler.

Turgeon played with six clubs throughout his 1,294-game career, but only 104 of those were as a Hab. Other stops included Buffalo, St. Louis, Dallas, Colorado (where he lives today) and New York, where he spent three and a half seasons with the Islanders - for whom he had 58 goals and 138 points in 1992-93 - before his stint with the Canadiens.

After Montreal captain Mike Keane was sent to Colorado less than half way through the 1995-96 season, Turgeon - who had by then established himself as one of the games' most creative playmakers - became the new face for the organization.

Finally, the Habs had a French-Canadian superstar to lead the club just as Yvon Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Maurice Richard and Jean Belliveau had done.

On the day Mario Tremblay named him the captain, Turgeon had lunch with Belliveau.

"He was never loud or flashy, but when he walked into the room you knew he was there," Turgeon recounts of the Habs legend, whose biography, My Life in Hockey, became something of a how to guide for the newly minted captain.

But Turgeon never had much of a chance to implement what he learned from Belliveau as he was traded to the St. Louis Blues nine games into the next season.

"I wish I could have stayed a little long and be able to feel more comfortable and get the hang of it. I was there for a year and a half and was captain for only five or six months.

To make matters worse, Turgeon joined the club at time of change.

Management was in flux, coaches were fired and replaced, players were on the move and fans watched as the team let goaltender Patrick Roy leave town, a move many Habs fans contend is one the organization has yet to recover from.

"They were trying to develop a foundation, seeing where they were going with the team," Turgeon recounts. "A lot of things happened when I was there, but that's part of hockey and part of life."

Part of being a Canadiens player means being subjected to the intense scrutiny of the media spotlight and some of the most passionate hockey fans on the planet.

Turgeon had played for the Islanders and Sabres in markets with a reasonable appetite for hockey, but in Montreal, hockey is more than king. It's the entire monarchy.

"You walk down the street in Montreal, they know you. It doesn't matter if you're on the first line or if you're a guy from the minors who just came up," he said.

"They get up in the morning, read the story in the Journale de Montreal and that's the conversation for the day."

Following the 1993 Stanley Cup win, the Habs were mediocre at best, missing the playoffs in four of the next 10 seasons, never advancing past the second round.

But despite Montreal's hockey history and atmosphere, attracting elite free-agent players to help change that recent playoff record hasn't been easy.

Turgeon doesn't have any theory as to why a player like Daniel Briere didn't jump at the chance to sign with the Habs, but figures the media has a lot to do with it.

"Montreal, in my experience, is a lot tougher with the media," he said.

"You walk into the dressing room and there's 50 media (members) in there after the game. Anywhere you go there's ups and down, but there's more pressure there because of the media.

"Hockey is a religion in Canada, Montreal especially."

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Islanders Scotiabank NHL Alumni Skill Contest St. Louis Blues

Geographic location: Montreal, Colorado, Rouyn-Noranda Torbay St. John's Buffalo St. Louis Dallas New York Canada

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