Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chad Kilger Autographed Card

There's a man named Claude that most Montréal indie musicians know - primarily as the booker for one of the city's finest venues - but who is also a great big hockey fan in his own right. He had a message for our scene today, and especially to those writing the Habs off as ''already dead''. To the untrained eye, it could seem just like capitalized words ''Never Die!'' over and over in red and blue with the Habs' logo copied and pasted a bunch of times, but the subtext is actually much richer, in fact; it speaks to the heart of the team's fans, their passion for the sport, their desire to help carry its team to places even its players doubted even existed; it's a City whose fans have seen 24 Stanley Cup championships, whose football team (the Alouettes) won their own Cup less than six months ago, whose soon-to-join-the-MLS soccer team also just came off their own championship, and a town that boasts no less than three current boxing World Champions, including Lucian Bute, current titleholder (and six-time defender) in the prestigious 168-pound category.

That's what that board post was alluding to.

Speaking of Montréal's great fans, this card (#255) Pinnacle's 1996-97 Score set, was signed by Chad Kilger at a September 2002 Canadiens Jamboree. Having been a 4th overall first-round pick in 1995, Kilger always knew he was loaded with talent, which was confirmed when he was traded to the Habs for Sergei Zholtok, as he started scoring goals and adding assists at a frantic pace as soon as he came into town, so much so that team management believed they had found their next superstar - and first power-forward in a long time. Unfortunately, as soon as he hit a slump, his ice time shrunk, and he was soon relegated to third-line status, but always given powerplay time because of his terrific set of skills.

And that's why he was in the mood that he was in at the Jamboree: training camp was over, he was again set to start the season on the checking line, but everyone knew he could be better than that - himself included. So he didn't feel like answering too many fans' questions and requests. He did sign my card in blue sharpie. I picked a card picturing him in the long-gone Winnipeg Jets' uniform for the simple reason that the only other uniform I had him in was of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and I wasn't a fan of that team, so I preferred going with the defunct one instead.

Eventually, he wore Habs brass' patience a little too thin and was put on waivers, and to make matters worse, the team that picked him up was long-time Habs rivals Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he would enjoy moderate success on a line with two other former Habs, Shayne Corson and Darcy Tucker, a checking line known for getting in the heads and pants of the other teams' best players - and for their hard partying habits off the ice. Until the Leafs lost patience too, and sent him to the Florida Panthers for a third round pick - and that's when things got interesting.

He didn't really want to play for the Panthers, and he had off-ice issues to deal with, so he asked the team for a leave of absence, which they granted. But when the agreed-upon date of his return came to pass and Tucker had neither shown up in Florida nor was taking the team's calls (and the same could be said for his agent), the team had no other choice but to suspend him. At the beginning of the following season, he didn't report to training camp, either.

As a matter of fact, the only other time we hard from him again was when he became a Cornwall, Ontario fireman, because it seemed his father, who was the city's mayor, may have helped push his candidature a bit.

So, to bring this full circle, I'll say two things:
1. Once a Hab, always a Hab, as we've seen in the Centennial celebrations
2. ''Habs Never Die'', we just don't ever give up.

Don't give up, Chad. Do whatever your heart tells you is right, and keep fighting the good fight.

Oh, and in regards to hockey experts everywhere: please, don't come tell me 4th-overall draft picks with great size and tremendous skills always, automatically, eventually, turn into franchise players. Sometimes they score an awful lot of goals when they come to their new team, but sometimes they stay relegated to third-line duty for the rest of their careers anyway.

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