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On the bookshelf – Au Couer du Vestiaire

This inside look at the Canadiens locker room, written originally in French by Mathias Brunet, is also available in English on Amazon and at Cole’s Indigo.

If there is a sports fan in your life, who loves hockey and especially the Montreal Canadiens, here is a book that they will truly enjoy. Mathias Brunet authored a book, recounting the anecdotes from former Canadiens Equipment Manager Pierre Gervais, Au Coeur du Vestiaire, which translates from French as “In the heart of the locker room”. It provides an inside look from the point of view gathered from his role on the team and some stories he’s collected over time working in the Habs dressing room.

Gervais, who spent 35 years with the franchise, covered a variety of topics in his book including some tabloid-level gossip about former captain Max Pacioretty, recently fired head coach Dominique Ducharme and fan darling PK Subban. This points to a book that is targeted to the fans, giving an inside look at the storied club in an era where little is known of the behind-the-scenes goings on.

There will be some who say that this book breaks the code of silence, “what happens in the room stays in the room”. Others will disagree. But the book is out, so fans may as well indulge. No matter the source of these stories, it is plausible that many would still feel that this “tell-all” style book is a betrayal to those who were named and that these interactions should have remained private.

When asked about this book, before its release, current Head Coach Martin St. Louis addressed this issue, saying that “There are so many shows on HabsTV, 24CH, formulaic stuff, and now the public has access to information without revealing any information from their personal lives or betraying any confidence. Some people are hurt. It’s normal. Normally, they react. But what Pierre is doing is part of the heritage of the biggest sports organization in North American history.”

This book also covers some of the more seemingly mundane parts of Gervais’ daily life as the team’s equipment manager. He provides an account of the hard work required to climb the ladder up to that role, what it takes to prepare the players, and the difficulties of travel and balancing family life.

For example, Gervais shares a story about Saku Koivu, whom he calls a friend to this day. In that story, he recounts how the former team captain found out about Gervais’ separation from his former wife, and how he had nowhere to stay. Koivu then gave him the keys to his Montreal condo for the summer while Koivu returned to Finland, and did this for nothing in return, except knowing he helped out a friend.

As light-hearted and emotional as that story was, Gervais pulled no punches in describing his antagonism with other former team members.

One such team member is Max Pacioretty, who Gervais labelled “a terrible captain” and “self-centred”, stating that “no one was more important than him”. The former equipment manager goes on, to say that back in 2015, when Pacioretty was voted by his teammates as captain, that Marc Bergevin and Michael Therrien would not have let the players vote if they expected that result. He also confirmed the rumours that were rampant back in that time that there was significant animosity between Pacioretty and Subban, even recounting some of their more heated arguments.

A different chapter in his book goes into detail on one of the more contentious eras, that of the tenure of general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin. While Gervais was critical of some points in Bergevin’s tenure, he went to great lengths to explain that his time with Montreal may have been good, but noted that the stress of it all signalled a need for a change.

He also gives details on the GM’s approach and temperament. Gervais liked his youthful style but noted the downfall that his inability to leave behind his idea of himself as a player did hurt his overall impact. Gervais also specifically noted that Bergevin “did some great things but also did great damage (…) Bergy needed a mentor to learn how to manage staff, budgets, talk to people”.

Canadiens fans may notice that team owner Geoff Molson obviously agreed with the idea that a GM needs a mentor, which is why we now see Kent Hughes being mentored by an experienced hockey executive like Jeff Gorton.

Gervais kept his most scathing critiques for the short tenure of recently fired head coach Dominique Ducharme. Gervais was surprised by his promotion after the sudden firing of Claude Julien. He felt that way because, in his opinion, Ducharme didn’t inspire the players or detract from them either. Essentially, the equipment manager felt Ducharme was an empty suit.

He goes into detail with other anecdotes that prove, in his eyes, that Ducharme never gained the confidence of the players in the room. Gervais goes on to state that former assistant coach Luke Richardson had the room, not Ducharme.

He notes the approach that was taken with young sniper Cole Caufield. Sharing one incident in which Caufield discovered he was scratched before a game, not by being told by a coach, but by the fact his name was crossed off the line-up board. Gervais notes not only the dejection in Caufield’s face but that this approach to players, especially a first-round pick who was seen as a future star, never happened in his time with the Canadiens.

This book, authored by Mathias Brunet, recounts many other stories that will entertain Montreal Canadiens fans. Gervais’ recounting of locker room details gives the reader a book that will prove to be a guilty pleasure for hockey fans, as it has the feel of a tell-all and a soap opera all in one.

While there’s some juicy stories and some insights on past players, I can tell there’s much left unsaid and there was some details left out of each anecdote. However, it’s a book that grabs and keeps your attention.

Blain’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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