Vinny Lecavalier said he remembers seeing books all around his Montreal elementary school about Canadiens legend Maurice Richard and how the team regularly won the Stanley Cup. He recalls his grandmother telling him how "classy" Jean Beliveau was off the ice. And Lecavalier said even now, even though Montreal hasn't won a Cup since 1993, the team still is "like a religion." The Lightning captain, 28, returned home this weekend to play in the 57th All-Star Game commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens franchise. What's it like for Lecavalier in a city that craves a French-Canadian superstar for whom to cheer and is buzzing with speculation the Canadiens could try to trade for him? Lecavalier tells us.
How does playing in an All-Star Game compare with other big moments in your career?
Making the All-Star Game is a great honor. It's almost like getting a trophy or something like that. But it's not like playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning and winning a playoff round. It's a great experience, and I love to do it, especially this year being in Montreal with family and friends. It's a weekend of fun, but it's not something you've worked for as a team.
Do you understand the fascination among fans and media about having a French-Canadian centerpiece on the Canadiens?
The people, they want a French-Canadian, there's no doubt about it. They talk about it every summer when free agency comes. Some people say there's not enough on the team, and they try to get more. It's part of the tradition. People are fascinated by it. They want a French-Canadian who can play there.
Montreal is such a cosmopolitan place. Why is it so provincial in that way?
It's big, but it's small. It's funny, hockey in the whole Quebec (province), if you go 30 minutes outside Montreal, or even five hours outside Montreal, people are fascinated by the Montreal Canadiens and know exactly what's going on. They know every single player. So, there's that small-town feel.
Describe the passion of Montreal's fans.
They're very passionate. It's like a religion there. I wouldn't say that's all we do, but it's the main sport. Every kid plays hockey. Every kid dreams of being a Montreal Canadien. They've had so much success over the past 100 years. That's what makes (fans) even more want them to win.
How are kids made aware of that legacy?
It's on TV. You're 2 years old, you're watching hockey games with your dad. It starts like that. You go to school, and I remember we had books in class of Maurice Richard winning the Stanley Cup. It's just every kid loves the sport. They haven't won since '93, but the stories keep being told about how great this is.
Were you a fan?
I was actually a big Detroit Red Wings fan because of Steve Yzerman (above). But you know all the names. I never saw Jean Beliveau play, but I know who he is. Maurice Richard, I know who he is. You hear about the names all the time.
Didn't your grandmother tell you about Jean Beliveau?
She would tell me how classy he was, not necessarily as a hockey player, but how he had a lot of class and how people respected him.
You try to carry yourself that way, too.
I think the way you're brought up, you listen to what your parents tell you, and that's how you learn how to handle yourself in life, whether it's being nice to people or other things. You learn from your parents and family.
The Montreal media is known as one of the least forgiving in the league. Why do you get along so well with them?
It's nothing I've tried to develop, but being in the NHL the last ten years, I know them all, I see them in the summer, I have great relationship with them, they've been great to me.
Are you recognized around town?
A lot of French-Canadian athletes get recognized. That's just how it is. It's not like the Hollywood stars where there's paparazzi. People are very respectful. It's not at a point where you can't leave your house. If I want to go see a movie, I go see a movie. The people recognize you and say hi. It's nice.
You claim two hometowns, don't you?
When I'm in Tampa, I feel like I'm home. I really do. But I love going back to Montreal in the summer. There's no place I'd rather be in the summertime.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.