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GO BACK TO A TIME WHEN THE HABS SPENT NEW YEAR’S EVE IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES.MONTREAL | December 23rd, 2008
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With many of their fans trading in snow for sun during that week, the Habs – read the NHL – have made a habit of scheduling a stop in southern Florida at the same time.
Far be it for the players to complain. But chances are the current squad wouldn’t have enjoyed their holiday getaway as much had their itinerary resembled that of the late 1980s through the early 2000s.
There were no palm trees and sandy beaches; instead, the Canadiens used to take their act northwest to face the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. From one year to the next, the trips allowed the team to either shut the door on a less-than desirable first half or start the new year off on the right foot.
In December 1987, Jean Perron’s Habs touched down in Calgary for a tilt against the team they had beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals a year earlier. The Campbell Conference-leading Flames - led by Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob and Joe Mullen - skated away with an easy 9-3 victory over the Canadiens, the Prince of Wales Conference leaders.
It would be just the opposite in 1989 when Pat Burns, in his second season behind the bench, guided his team to victories over the Flames and Oilers.
Oddly enough, it was nearly a tradition for the Canadiens to ring in the new year among the Calgary mountains. Montreal was in Cow Town on Dec. 31 eight times from 1991 through 2003, closing out the year with a win on just three occasions.
On the heels of the NHL’s second wave of expansion in the early 1990s, the Habs’ ventures to the Canadian west coast became fewer and far between. In 1993, the holiday swing marked the Canadiens’ only stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary.
The club posted a 10-9-2-2 record during those trips, which came to an end in 2002.
But, with the schedule returning to pre-lockout form in 2008, maybe the old tradition will be back in the near future…much to the dismay of the players.