THE DESHARNAIS-COURNOYER CONNECTION

Mar 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Canadiens, Latest News

58-David Desharnais

It’s never easy being a small man playing a big man’s game. Ask David Desharnais.

For that matter, ask Yvan Cournoyer.

Their respective career beginings have been almost mirror images.  Each is 5’7” and 170 pounds. Each has had to deal with the prejudices the hockey establishment holds for what Formula One champion Jackie Stewart likes to call “men of an average height”.  Average to Jackie is 5’7” and 170 lbs.

In the NHL it’s well below average and that’s the rub.

The “nattering nabobs” have started to get on Canadiens coach Jacques Martin for his handling of Desharnais’ ice time. After all, in his first 27 games in the NHL he has those seven goals and fourteen points.  Project that to an eighty-two game schedule and you come up with 21 goals and 42 points, an excellent rookie season by any standard.   The critics think that Desharnais has earned more than the twelve minutes a game he’s allowed to play under the Martin regime. 

Cournoyer knows that scenario. During his first two years with the Canadiens, he often  wondered what he had to do to get regular ice time.   In that time, Toe Blake used him almost exclusively on the power play.  And all he did was produce goals.  In the 1965-66 season, 16 of his 18 goals came with the man advantage and the next year it was 20 of 25.  Fans and media were all over Blake about it, but he wouldn’t budge. As a coach, his concern was Cournoyer’s defensive ability in the heavy even-strength traffic of that era. We’ll never know whether he was wrong in his handling of the Roadrunner, but Cournoyer certainly was ready to roll when Blake’s successor, Claude Ruel finally turned him loose in the 1968-69 season He scored 43 goals and 87 points.

Now it’s four decades later.  The game may be markedly different but defensive responsibilities are the same.  So is the prevailing attitude about  the vertically challenged.  If anything, it’s a bigger concern because opponents are bigger and stronger than anything Cournoyer faced.  . 

Into this scenario comes Desharnais, the player nobody wanted. Undrafted out of junior, Guy Carbonneau had to beg the Canadiens to give him so much as a training camp look. That got him a Hamilton Bulldogs contract and a trip to the  East Coast Hockey League followed by two-plus seasons in the American Hockey League before he finally was taken seriously. And now he’s trying to prove himself all over again, just as Cournoyer did 45 years ago.

Is Jacques Martin wrong in the way he’s using him?   Was Blake wrong in his handling of Cournoyer?  In each case, probably not. 

We know about  Cournoyer’s Hall of Fame career.  Only time will tell us about Desharnais. My suspicion is, it’s also going to be very productive.

Tags: ,

One Comment to “THE DESHARNAIS-COURNOYER CONNECTION”

  1. Olivier says:

    M. Reusch:

    A) Didn’t knew you had a blog; awfully happy to find out!

    B) My guess is Martin must be very, very happy indeed to have Desharnais around. Just as he did with Eller and Subban, he’s breaking him in gradually by establishing a role the kid can flourish in. Eller spent quite some time centering the 4th line, always getting good icetime, but being sheltered between Pleks, Gomez and Halpern. Subban also had ample icetime, sheltered behind the two Czech, Gill and Gorges. When the time came, Martin had them step up and they answered the bell; Eller around mid-February when Martin moved Halpern to the wing and Subban when Gorges went down, pairing with Gill into a tough matchup pair.

    Desharnais’s defensive zone even strength play *is* too iffy, I beleive, for Martin to send him out carelessly. But Martin isn’t just giving him PP duty. He also uses him on the PK and already gives him a fair share of defensive zone faceoffs. Martin is grooming him in a bona fide two-way center and once the kid figures it out for good (my guess is somewhere around the middle of next season), he’ll get plenty of icetime.

    It took him a full season before really tearing into the AHL. Give him time. Martin won’t shy away from throwing him to the wolves when ready.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: