In honour of the Montreal Canadiens officially not making the playoffs this year, I thought I'd take a quick moment and share the story of my 2 run-ins with hockey legend Guy Carbonneau. Most of you who know me personally have heard it many times but, for those who haven't, it is worth repeating.
I tell this story with every ounce of humility and acknowledge that in this city, my actions were nothing short of blasphemous.
As a university student, I had a summer job working as a barista in a coffee shop at the airport. My shift was 4AM to noon which meant that I was up at 2:30 to make it to work on time. When you work hours like that, it's really hard on your system and either you adapt quickly or you don’t. By the end of the summer, I was both exhausted and a little “punchy”.
The early hours were usually pretty quiet. I had all the well-needed coffee I could drink and would chat with some of the customers as I cleaned tables – usually trying out a well intentioned joke or two to break the ice. Most people laughed politely. On rare occasions they also got indignant and complained but, that is another story.
One such morning a man showed up in a well appointed suit and placed his order. As I got his coffee, I went into my “in some countries it's illegal to get up this early” routine and the guy started laughing. He asked me a little about myself and I told him I was studying business but, wanted to be a film critic. Then he asked me what I thought about hockey.
Far be it from me to pass up an opening.
I proudly told him I was the only person in Montreal who wouldn't be able to tell a hockey player from a holy man and had never taken an interest in the sport – ever. Now he was laughing out loud. Sensing “victory” I threw in George Carlin’s old joke about how hockey was actually 3 activities going on at the same time – ice skating, playing with a puck, and beating the “snot” out of somebody (but, I didn't say snot). He asked me a few times what my name was, thanked me for the conversation, shook my hand, and said he hoped he'd meet me again the next time he was passing through.
My boss, a short and stout man with a rapidly receding widow's peak, stood off to the side and watched the whole incident. He pulled me into the storage area that also doubled as his office and proceeded to rip me a new one. “How dare you talk to any customer like that – especially someone like GUY CARBONNEAU!”.
I felt like I was going to puke. I may have known next to nothing about professional hockey but, I sure as hell knew that name! He boasted a 20-year playing career of which 19 were spent in Montreal and had won the cup twice. Upon hearing my story, my good friend and CRF contributor Kevin Lecouffe (a huge Carbonneau fan) was outraged and swore I'd never hear the end of it.
I rationalized that Carbonneau thought I was really funny and he didn’t seem insulted at all. In fact, he probably found it refreshing to have a conversation with somebody about hockey without getting blasted with questions like my friend might ask. At least that was what I kept telling myself.
It became a running gag with the group and stayed that way until Kevin got engaged to his longtime girlfriend. The hunt began for the perfect gift and while planning the stag party, a mutual friend made an off the cuff comment that we should invite Mr. Carbonneau to the wedding ceremony. Since I knew the man so well……..
Far be it from me to pass up an opening.
That year, Guy Carbonneau was being touted as a hometown hero. He was named head coach of the Habs – an assignment many thought long overdue. I went on the team's website and found a spot that indicated players/staff would autograph cards and memorabilia if you mailed it in.
I wrote to Carbonneau (without reminding him of our first meeting) and told him how big a fan Kevin was. In retrospect, it probably sounded pretty sappy but, I can assure you I was honest.
About 2 weeks later, a letter turned up at my place. It was addressed to the happy couple and said simply “Congratulations on your wedding. Enjoy each other every day.”. It was signed #21 – Guy Carbonneau.
The moral of this story, if there is one I guess, is that it restored my faith in celebrities who have an appreciation for their fan base. It was a simple act of kindness that won't be forgotten and the framed letter will always hold a place of honour in Kevin's home. For that reason alone I'll always have a great deal of personal respect for Guy Carbonneau.
The other point, to coin a hockey expression, is “never skate with your head down”. If you do, you'll get blind-sided and look dumb – just like I did when “that guy” showed up for his morning coffee.