One decade ago, British Columbia was awash in blue and green as the Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.
This year, expect to see a lot of bleu, blanc et rouge throughout the province, as B.C. residents cheer on the Montreal Canadiens as they take on the defending league champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
And as to why they’re rooting for the Habs, look no further than Montreal’s three best players: Carey Price, Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher, all of whom call B.C. home.
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In fact, all three were raised in beautiful British Columbia, though Gallagher was born in Edmonton before moving to Tsawwassen, near Vancouver, as a youth.
Further, all three also played in the Western Hockey League – Weber with Kelowna, Gallagher with Vancouver and Price with Tri-City — before graduating from the junior loop and moving on to become professional players.
“I’m thrilled for them,” said Bruce Hamilton, president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, where Weber played from 2002-05.
“Anytime someone comes out of the league, it’s great to see them go and have success. But, boy, they’ve got the country behind them right now and they’ve mowed down some really good teams.”
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All three are arguably their junior team’s greatest players. For example, Gallagher is the Giants’ all-time leading scorer.
“With the B.C. connection, and the Vancouver connection with Brendan Gallagher, there is plenty of hockey chatter taking place as we’re all watching this Cinderella run by Montreal,” added Dan O’Connor, director of media relations and play-by-play broadcaster for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
“Certainly from a Vancouver standpoint, seeing what Brendan and (defenceman) Brett Kulak are doing, it is wonderful to see. We would very much love to see another alumni or two of the Vancouver Giants hoist the Stanley Cup.”
If Montreal does indeed upset Tampa Bay for the Cup, Price will play a large role in that.
Hailing from Anahim Lake, Price is having the best playoff season of his career. Yet for all his great stats, his former junior team general manager said character was his top trait.
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“This is awesome; they’re all great men,” Bob Tory said from Kennewick, Wash., home of the Tri-City Americans, where Price played four seasons, 2003-07.
“Carey … as great as a hockey player as he is, and he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, he’s very much that as a person. He’s humble, he cares about people.
“He’s matured into an outstanding husband and father, and I don’t have enough good things to say about him.”
“(Price) is one of the most professional athletes you’ll ever meet,” said Hamilton. “And on top of that, he’s a quality person who never forgot where he came from.”
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Tory said he didn’t have a direct connection to Shea Weber, but knows much about him from his hockey contemporaries. And as for Gallagher, Tory said he coached Brendan’s dad in 3A midget when he used to coach in Edmonton.
Hamilton echoed Tory’s thoughts, albeit with Weber, who hails from Sicamous. Both Weber and Price live in Kelowna during the off-season, as do many NHLers.
“The great thing about Shea Weber is he’s never, ever forgot where he came from,” said Hamilton.
“He returns to Sicamous frequently and I know when we reach out to him, he’s right onto it. He’s a quiet, classy, classy man who has done real well.”
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Hamilton added “there’s a lot of guys who’ve played an entire career and never got a chance to play (in the Stanley Cup Final). Now he has a chance to win it, which is all the better.”
Both Hamilton and Tory touched on Montreal GM Marc Bergevin and the team he’s built.
“It’s truly a team,” said Tory. “It’s not a team of superstars or individuals. Everybody on that team is important.”
Tory continued that “Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for creating a culture of truly caring for his players.”
“Marc Bergevin has done an unbelievable job in building that team,” said Hamilton. “Their success this year is one thing, but they’re built for the future with all their youth.”
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Tampa Bay is Monday.
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