When the Montreal Canadiens were busy losing under Bob Gainey, in the days immediately following the firing of head coach Guy Carbonneau, few players in the Habs’ locker room took it harder than Maxim Lapierre.
Lapierre was one of only a handful of players in the dressing room, along with line mates Tom Kostopoulos and Guillaume Latendresse, to respond to the challenge after Carbonneau was shown the door. Those three almost singlehandedly kept this team afloat up front, until Gainey found the winning combination of Koivu-Kovalev-and-Tanguay.
And for his efforts, throughout the entire season, Lapierre has been named winner of the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy as the team’s unsung hero.
It’s hard to argue with the logic set forth by the beat reporters who cover this team on a daily basis, and voted in Lapierre for this award (although I plan to do just that, a little later). Lapierre is enjoying his most productive season in the NHL with 15 goals and 13 assists. He is a plus nine on the season, and boasts the second-best winning percentage of all Montreal forwards in the faceoff circle with a 53% success rate.
However, to me, the stat that reveals the most about HOW Maxim Lapierre plays this game of hockey, is this one: a team-leading 39 hits down the stretch in March.
For all the success that Lapierre has enjoyed on the scoresheet, it’s the way that Lapierre plays this game that impresses me the most: feisty, spirited and with effort and determination, on most nights. He’s a pain in the butt to play against; not unlike another pain in the butt who used to wear Habs colours: Claude Lemieux.
Allow me to reserve judgement on this next point until we see how the first line of Koivu-Kovalev-Tanguay responds to the playoff bell, but let me suggest right here and now that the line of Lapierre-Kostopoulos-Latendresse is liable to be Montreal’s most effective forward unit in the playoffs. Second line positions are usually reserved for guys with names like Plekanec and Kostitsyn. But, unless Plekanec stops playing like “a little girl”, which is how he, himself, classified his performance in the playoffs last season, the Canadiens aren’t going to have a true second line, and they will not go far in the playoffs as a one-line team.
But I digress.
Truth be told, when it came time for yours truly to vote for the Canadiens’ unsung hero this season, I cast my ballot for Tom Kostopoulos. Because, game in and game out, he’s one guy who comes to play. It’s rarely reflected on the scoresheet. But he’s not that kind of a player. He’s the kind of player who will go to war for his team mates. He’s the kind of player who will drop his gloves and take on comers of all shapes and sizes, while someone like Georges Laraque waits for a fax from opposing heavyweights so that he can set up an appointment to determine when and wear a fight should take place.
Kostopoulos just drops his gloves. Period. He won’t win every battle, but he’s IN every battle. Is it any wonder that it was Kostoulos who teamed up with, yes, that’s right, Steve Begin and Brian Smolinski to form Montreal’s most effective forward line in the playoffs last season?
For the record, defenceman Josh Gorges finished third in the balloting for the unsung-hero award, followed by the player who, I believe, will indeed get his chance at some point during post-season play and may ultimately determine how deep the Canadiens go int the playoffs.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak.