MONTREAL, QC. — It’s been over three years since Guy Carbonneau was connected to the Montreal Canadiens in an official capacity. Carbonneau was fired as head coach of the club on March 9, 2009. His accomplishments as a player date back much further with Carbonneau winning Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in 1986 and 1993 — he won a third Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.
But the 52-year-old (his birthday was on Monday) former captain of the Habs can still draw a crowd.
I caught up with Guy at the Bell Centre a few weeks ago when the Canadiens met the Toronto Maple Leafs for a Saturday night game. He was participating in the Dove Men+Care Real Man challenge pitted against Leafs legend Wendel Clark. Dove wanted to illustrate the point that today’s real men can remain cool while stepping out of their comfort zones.
“The Dove Men+Care® Real Man Challenges are about showing that hockey greats, just like everyday guys, play multiple roles in life – whether it’s being an awesome dad or performing for hockey fans in a whole new arena,” said Sharon McLeod, VP Marketing, Unilever Canada. “Wendel and Guy demonstrate the great qualities shared by real men today, including a passion for doing whatever it takes in every venue of life.”
Dove set up three challenges for Carbonneau and Clark that would certainly put the hockey icons in situations quite new to them. The first challenge had been completed two nights earlier during the Habs – Wild game: who would demonstrate a steady hand under pressure while serving beer to thirsty patrons during a 17-minute intermission rush?
The easy victor was Carbonneau who sold 154 beers to Wendel’s 68 — our own @czechtacular reported on the action here. It’s hard to know whether the lopsided win is a reflection of Guy’s skill with a tap or a statement about beer consumption by Bell Centre fans. Regardless the winner of each challenge will be determined by each competitor collecting the most online votes.
As I made my way through a crowded corridor of the Bell Centre I found Carbonneau waiting patiently behind a black curtain. His greeting was warm — we talked about the upcoming game against the Leafs and the two challenges in which he would compete.
“Nervous,” I asked? “No,” said Guy. But then with a smile he admitted that he was a little apprehensive about the third challenge — playing the arena organ.
But next up was selling game programs in the Bell Centre lobby. The area was jammed with Habs fans and a significant number of Leafs supporters providing a boisterous atmosphere. Bold ‘Go Leafs Go’ chants were quickly drowned out but the rivalry set the stage for the second challenge between former Leaf and Canadien great.
Carbonneau was an instant magnet which turned out to be as much a curse as a blessing. Habs fans scrambled for photos and autographs — Guy accommodated each one — which in the end hampered sales. Carbonneau sold 79 programs, a far cry from Clark’s total of 157.
The third and final challenge — playing the arena organ — took place during the second intermission. While it was the task Carbonneau was most concerned about, he revealed to me that although he never played, there has always been an organ in his house — his father was an organist.
Guy enlisted the assistance of Bell Centre organist Diane Bibeau to guide him through two tunes. Performing “When the Saints Go Marching In” was perhaps a nod to the season he spent with the Blues and proved that Carbo knew his way around the keyboard. But the real crowd-pleaser was the familiar ‘Go Habs Go’ chords.
After the performance Carbonneau patiently posed for photos with fans, some of whom after two periods of adult beverages were no so gentle with the hockey legend. I asked Guy about it later. He said that there was a point in his career that he realized that taking time for fans was also a part of his job.
There was a trade-off — during his playing days the times of occasional discomfort were offset by enjoying the adulation of 17,959 fans at the Montreal Forum. And now, what about when he has had enough of the sometimes overzealous attention? “I just go home,” said Carbonneau.
I told Guy that he really seemed in his element on stage performing for the crowd. He told me that he had been very fortunate to meet famous musicians, and most every one had a dream of being a professional athlete. “Me,” said Carbonneau, “I wanted to be a rock star.”
After spending a considerable time chatting, it was time to head back to the seats for the last half of the third period. I was quite impressed by the generosity of Carbonneau in the time he devoted to me and to his adoring fans.
As for the winner of the Carbonneau – Clark challenge, that will be determined by fans — so don’t forget to vote!
Ask Guy Carbonneau
With the help from the folks at Dove, Guy has offered to communicate with fans who couldn’t meet him in person. All Habs Hockey Magazine will collect your questions and present them to Carbonneau via a Twitter interview on Thursday March 22 at 7:00 pm.
Here’s how you can participate. Submit your questions as a comment below, send us an email, tweet or Facebook message, and we will pass it on to Guy this Thursday evening. If you are using Twitter be sure to use the hashtags #allhabs and #madeformen .
If you would like to read Carbonneau’s responses live, be sure that you are following @All_Habs on Twitter. We will also be posting his answers in a future article.
Thanks to Guy Carbonneau, Terri McBay representing Dove, and Kyle Roussel, my good friend and seatmate for the game.