I'm repeating what I've heard and read before, but never observed personally, when I say that in the past, the Canadiens used to show up with young prospects, skilled players who'd get thugged and beaten on by older 'energy' players, fourth-liners and grinders who hoped to catch on with their team by fighting their way in. This got so bad that the Canadiens eventually pulled out of this type of tournament, they saw more value in a teaching camp, a skills-development camp with inter-squad scrimmages, where players can polish their game and avoid injuries.
When Marc Bergevin took over, he was asked about that practice, of having 20-30 invited players coming in to camp to fill out rosters for scrimmage purposes, which on the one hand is good in terms of leaving no stone unturned, but on the other meant a lot of coaching attention squandered on no-hopers instead of your prize pupils. His answer was that he'd seen both types of approach, that he personally liked the rookie tournament approach, but he'd observe the current practice and keep an open mind.
And he did, maintaining the status quo for three training camps. He went further than that though, he gave it every opportunity to succeed, by beefing up the resources, notably in terms of coaching. It was only a few years ago when Trevor Timmins was the lone coach on the ice directing drills. I'm sure Trevor knows a lot, but that's clearly not his bailiwick, and it was a sign to me of an organization that improvised, that ran on a shoestring. Fast-forward to the Marc Bergevin years, and he has all the AHL coaches in attendance, plus guest coaches from the LHJMQ, because why not get a look at the sprouting talent in that area.
Still, the decision was made to change it up and move to a tournament camp against other teams. I wonder whether Mike McCarron's showing last summer, when he was relatively invisible in scrimmages, but shone in pre-season games, notably against the Bruins, played a role in this decision. It's easy to deduce that he may have held back against his own future teammates, and that his game suffered as a result. To say nothing about Bokondji Imama and Jack Nevins, who tip-toed around until the final scrimmage of camp and then squared off at the end for a mutually-beneficial punchup. Except that Jack Nevins got injured in that scrap.
So the Canadiens joined the Penguins, Leafs and Senators in a three-game round-robin rookie tournament, and despite only seeing one game, I'd call it a success. Mike McCarron, him again, was allowed to perform in a realistic environment and proved that he has a lot to offer the organization. On the other end of the spectrum, Angelo Miceli and Ryan Johnston proved that they could play in 'real' conditions, not just scrimmages, and have success at that level, despite their diminutive stature.
Another benefit was explained by Jérémy Grégoire:
«J'adore ça, je veux gagner. Je ne me souviens pas d'un match intraéquipe que j'ai gagné!, explique le numéro 47. Ici, d'être avec les gars, on apprend à se connaître un peu plus. Oui, on se côtoyait dans les matchs intraéquipe, mais on apprenait aussi à se haïr.»
Le jeu physique était évidemment à l'honneur, en particulier dans le duel Canadien-Sénateurs d'hier. «Les gars n'ont pas peur de s'arracher la tête», reconnaît Grégoire.
(Translated): "I love it, I want to win. I don't remember a single intra-squad game that I've ever won. Here, being with the guys, we learn to know each other better. Sure, we were around each other too in the intra-squad games, but we also learned to hate each other (when we faced off against each other)."
"(Playing against the Senators or other teams), the boys aren't afraid of tearing some guy's head off."
So an environment that allows players whose game is based more on competitiveness and hard work than talent to shine also, and brings the players closer. Our skill players, our goalies, being tested by high-caliber players instead of the remainders, the invitees who'll never have a shot at even the AHL. What's not to like?
The ground rules for they tourney seemed to be more conducive to development of the youngsters too, with only players having a maximum of one year of pro hockey experience allowed, which curtails the situations described earlier, about grown men beating on teens to a large degree. There are a few players approaching their mid-twenties, but they're college players getting their first taste of the pros, which is a more level playing field.
My quibbles and qualms are mostly roster-based. I wish Sven Andrighetto had been allowed to participate, but he had too much seniority. I wish Mac Bennett had asserted himself more, along with Daniel Carr, they're more mature and should stand out. Josiah Didier was on the ice for a lot of goals against, based on the Leafs game and highlights from the others, his 72 sweater stuck out like a sore thumb, repeatedly.
But overall, a positive development for our team, for our prospects, and also, a demonstration that the team Marc Bergevin is trying to build, with a healthier dose of size and pugnacity, can survive and thrive in this referee-deficient environment of the new NHL. Our GM observed the situation, gave it a shot, but decided a change was in order and pulled the trigger when the opportunity arose. Which is kind of his modus operandi, actually.