When Montreal loved Jose Theodore
I'm guessing you might read one or two Jose Theodore stories this week, as the Caps' goalie returns to his hometown, a place where he grew up and starred for the Canadiens before fans soured on him. To whet your appetite, a few notes from the archives.
July, 1994: Not long after he was drafted at the age of 17, Theodore was asked about hockey in Montreal.
"Sure there's a lot of pressure in Montreal. Hockey is like a drug here," he told the Montreal Gazette. "You just do your job, play and have fun. I won't put pressure on my shoulders for nothing."
May, 1995: Papers started jumping into the "Goalie of the Future" bit. The Ottawa Citizen was running a long profile headlined "Saint Theodore of Hull." It talked about how he enrolled in Vladislav Tretiak's goaltending school at the age of 11, how the Russian legend "developed an intense interest in Theodore, making him one of his instructors. Now Theodore hangs out with fellow instructor [Martin] Brodeur. Tretiak visits or calls the Theodores whenever he is in Montreal to find out where Jose is playing."
And the story mentioned how Theodore's family was along for the ride.
"The most fanatical hockey parent would be hard-pressed to dream up the fantasy Ted Theodore is living," the story began.
April, 1997: Theodore began finding success on the ice, perhaps most famously in a triple-overtime playoff game against Martin Brodeur and the Devils. The Gazette would later say this was when Theodore "stole the hearts" of Montreal fans.
"The first time I met him was when he was 13 years old and I was working with him at goalie camp," Brodeur told the Bergen Record then. "He's quite a person. I knew he was a pretty good goalie. The question is always how you handle the pressure, and I think
you got the answer."
January, 2000: After some time going back and forth to the minors, Theodore started hearing the H word in the 1999-'00 season.
"In a town aching for a hockey hero, they may have found one at last," Jack Todd wrote in the Gazette. "In a season when so much has been lost, the Canadiens may finally have found themselves a goaltender - and a home."
Summer, 2000: Contract disputes led to some unpleasantness the following offseason, and Theodore's agent actually used his popularity as a PR argument.
"'Why don't they let the kid go out there and fight for the No. 1 spot?'' Don Meehan asked. ''I mean...here's a young goalie (Theodore turns 24 next Wednesday) who's a natural for this team. He's always been a great corporate guy...always trying to say the right things...always trying to sell the team to the people. 'He's popular with the fans. He played better than most goalies in the league, and yet the Canadiens seem to be giving him a hard time. I don't know why."
January, 2002: After he finally became the No. 1 guy in the 2001-'02 season, there was more talk of him being the franchise cornerstone for years.
"Just the kind of player the struggling Habs have been waiting for to build their team around," the CP wrote. "Perfectly bilingual and with good looks to boot, he's the kind of marketable force that can draw fans for years to come at the cavernous Molson Centre."
August, 2002: He won the Hart and Vezina that year, and was in line for a big raise. While the deal was being worked on, he got an even better deal completed. More from the Gazette:
While Theodore and the Canadiens remain at an impasse on a new contract - don't expect any more contract talks until the National Hockey League arbitration period ends this month - he did reach a multi-year agreement to serve as a national spokesman for the Vachon line, which includes Jos. Louis, Mae West and Theodore's childhood favourite, Half Moon.
"We always had Vachon cakes around our house when I was growing up," said Theodore, who noted that the first member of his family to appear in a Vachon ad was his older brother, Nick, who was 5 when he showed up in a 1965 campaign.
September, 2002: Amid a whole bunch of fanfare, Theodore signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal to stay in Montreal.
"This is great news for our fans who will have the opportunity to applaud his performances for years to come," Montreal GM Andre Savard said.
"It's important to know the money is there, but the main thing is that I love playing hockey. It's still a game. I go to practice every day with the same feeling I had when I was making $35 a week in junior hockey," Théodore said. "For me, growing up in Montreal, it was a dream to play for this team. It's the only team I've played for and I just wanted to be sure I can play here for a lot more years.
At the same time, The Globe and Mail talked about how important Theo's background was to his standing in Montreal:
Besides his goaltending skills, Théodore also provides Montreal with a superstar francophone player, which the team had lacked for a few years. And with the NHL's largest building to fill 41 times a year, that's no small consideration.
"There is difficulty assessing that value and that's not something we do, so anything I say would be intuition," team president Pierre Boivin said. "There's no question that in the province of Quebec where the majority of our fan base is, there is a francophone factor.
And its season preview, the same paper discussed how Theo's rise had changed his life:
Best of all, in a city where the pressure on hockey players has broken more than a few spirits, Théodore thrives.
"That's what pushes you to another level because you know there is that extra pressure," he said. "You don't really have a private life any more but that's all part of it. It's a small sacrifice to make. When you go out and hear people say things like 'I started watching hockey last year with you guys, with Saku's [Koivu] return, with the playoffs,' it just pushes you to train harder...."
"It is kind of funny sometimes to realize a lot of people seem to be your good friend after a good season," Théodore said. "I get asked to do TV shows here, I was invited to the ESPY awards in L.A., I went to do a photo shoot for GQ which was pretty cool. I went to Wrigley Field and threw the opening pitch there. It's things you never expected you would do."
October, 2002: When Theodore started the next season poorly, the Francophone stuff came back into play. From the Ottawa Citizen:
Of course, Theodore's bad start has sparked an English-French war between columnist Jack Todd of the Gazette and Rejean Tremblay of La Presse. Todd wrote last week that Canadiens management can't play an Anglo over a French goalie in Montreal without creating trouble from its francophone fans.
Tremblay replied with accusations of Anglo bigotry, reminding his readers that Jeff Hackett has never brought the Canadiens or any other team he has played for into the post-season.
October, 2006: Theodore ran into several off-ice issues, never recaptured his prior form after the lockout and was dealt to Colorado, a development that deserves more than one sentence but I'm getting weary. His first return to Montreal was a massive story. Jack Todd, who wrote dozens and dozens of Theo stories over the years, wrote at great length about what Theodore's first meeting with the Montreal press:
For the most part yesterday, Theodore stuck to the tried-and-true script. He used the word "focus" at least 30 times in both languages, saying he simply has to maintain his.
He said he did not know what to expect from the hometown crowd and that he enjoyed going to a football game in Denver without having fans pester him for autographs. He said the Avalanche have the best spirit of any team for which he has played.
Fair enough, if not particularly quotable. But when a television reporter asked about the role the media might have had in driving him out of Montreal, Theodore replied: "You guys are intelligent enough to know the answer to that one yourselves. The answer is in the question."
Of course it is not. Both the question and the answer are complex, rooted in the frequently rocky relationship between francophone hockey stars in this city and the French-language media, which grows more voracious and less responsible by the day.
(The English-language media is just as voracious and irresponsible in this era of the blog, the chat room, the podcast and the open-mouth radio station -- there just aren't as many of us.)
The deadline deal that sent him to the Avalanche for David Aebischer -- who will get the nod from the Canadiens tonight, setting up a rare battle between opposing goalies who were traded for one another -- was no doubt impelled in part by the media. Theodore's charm had been offset by his penchant for spectacularly bad judgment off the ice and when his on-ice performance went south, he was deemed expendable.
The definitive word has yet to be said about Theodore's career. At this point, it resembles that of another Quebec idol, Jacques Villeneuve: the early success, the utter flame-out later. Theodore could bounce back or he could spend the next decade doing a Villeneuve, bouncing from one team to another, while blaming his failings on everyone else. For now, all you can say is that the resume is incomplete.
Now he gets another shot. And after what he's been through in the past 12 months, if you're not pulling for Theodore just a little bit, your heart is officially made of poutine. Now somebody please find me video of his ad spots for Vachon Cakes.
(UPDATE: Here it is.)
Posted by: NateinthePDX | April 12, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MarylanDChris | April 12, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ThisGuy | April 12, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MNMNT | April 12, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: blackjack65 | April 12, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: capswench | April 12, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: theblitz | April 12, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gs12 | April 12, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Mike4169 | April 12, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Mike4169 | April 12, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cali_snowboarder | April 12, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jhorstma | April 12, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jonathan54 | April 12, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jonathan54 | April 12, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Pivonka_to_Bondra | April 12, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rmcazz | April 12, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rhino40 | April 12, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rhino40 | April 12, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Kdarienzo | April 12, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hockeyholic | April 13, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.