Stu's Slapshots: Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki does TV ad — in French

Brings back memories of one Gary Carter did in the 1970s when he was playing for the Expos.

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With NHL games on TV being taken over by constant ads for online gambling sites, it’s refreshing to see Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki doing an ad for a soft drink.

It’s even more refreshing that he’s doing it in French, along with teammate David Savard.

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In the ad for Pepsi Zero Sugar, Suzuki and Savard are sitting in the locker room and the captain has headphones around his neck. Savard asks what Suzuki is listening to and he says: “Du country rock.”

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When Savard responds that music doesn’t exist, Suzuki says: “Ben oui, ça existe! Écoute ça!” while handing over the headphones.

Savard takes a pass on the music and instead they each open a can of the soft drink and start drinking.

“Ça c’est bon,” Savard says.

“Oui, c’est très bon!” Suzuki responds.

The ad reminds me of one former Expos catcher and future Hall of Famer Gary Carter did with his young daughter Christy for 7UP during the 1970s in English and French. At the end of the French ad, Carter said: “J’aime le 7UP.” Even if it was the only French the American baseball player knew, it was a brilliant marketing move and a smart PR move by Carter, connecting him with French-speaking Quebecers.

The same thing applies now to Suzuki.

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“It was a lot of fun,” Savard said after practice Friday in Brossard when I asked him about doing the TV commercial with Suzuki. “We had a few laughs. He was working on his French, so it’s good. We were helping him out with pronunciation and stuff, trying to make it as perfect as possible for the commercial. It was a good time.”

Savard is one of only four Quebecers on the Canadiens’ roster, along with Samuel Montembeault, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Mike Matheson, who are all bilingual.

“Being in downtown Montreal you can get around pretty easily (only in English), but anywhere else (in the province) is French,” Savard said. “I think it’s important for (other players) to just learn the basics. It’s definitely hard and it’s not easy to do, but it’s fun for them to just try a little bit. Sometimes they’re shy a little bit to talk to other people in French, but in the room we kind of joke around and make them learn a few words here and there, so it’s good.”

How many goals for Cole?

Cole Caufield scored twice for the Canadiens in their season-opening 6-5 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs Wednesday night in Toronto, but only one of them counted. His first goal didn’t count after the Leafs called for a video review that showed the play was offside by a hair.

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Caufield scored 26 goals in 46 games last season and was on pace to finish with 46 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.

If the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Caufield can stay healthy this season he could become the Canadiens’ first 40-goal scorer since Vincent Damphousse scored 40 in 1993-94 — eight years before Caufield was born. The Canadiens haven’t have a 50-goal scorer since Stéphane Richer scored 51 in 1989-90 — when Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis was a 14-year-old playing minor hockey in Laval.

Caufield has scored 49 goals in 84 games since St. Louis took over as head coach. St. Louis was asked before the season opener about the possibility of Caufield scoring 50 goals this season.

“Is it possible? Yes,” St. Louis said. “But it’s not something that we’re focusing on. If Cole ends up scoring 50 I’m not going to be as impressed with the 50 goals that he scores, but how is he playing the game and how is he impacting the game on both sides of the puck. I definitely think that it’s a possibility, but to me that’s just focusing on the result. Our team, we kind of focus on the process and that stuff just happens as a side effect.”

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In this week’s episode of the HI/O Show we discussed how many goals Caufield and some of his teammates might finish the season with. Check it out below and see if you agree.

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Matheson earns Béliveau Trophy

The Canadiens announced Friday that Matheson is this season’s recipient of the Jean Béliveau Trophy, which goes to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities in the community. The trophy comes with a $25,000 donation from the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation to the charity of the player’s choice.

Matheson, who grew up in Pointe-Claire on Montreal’s West Island, has embraced everything about being a Canadien — both on and off the ice — since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer. He has become an ambassador for the Champions for Life Foundation that empowers children to move well and build the skills, confidence and motivation to be active for a lifetime. Matheson has visited schools in the Montreal area, meeting students from Grades 1 to 6 to read interactive stories that allow them to reproduce the skills illustrated in them.

Matheson and his wife, Emily, have one child — a son named Hudson, who turned 2 in June.

Bravo, Mike!

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Remember me, coach?

At 33, goalie Jake Allen is the oldest player on the Canadiens’ roster, followed by Savard, 32, and forwards Brendan Gallagher and Tanner Pearson, who are both 31.

They have all been around the NHL long enough to have played against St. Louis, whose Hall of Fame career ended after the 2014-15 season with the New York Rangers when he posted 21-31-52 totals in 74 games as a 39-year-old.

“I did play against Marty and I look at that whole coaching staff (including Alex Burrows, Trevor Letowski and Stéphane Robidas) I think I played against all of them,” said Pearson, who the Canadiens acquired last month in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks. “It’s definitely weird. But he’s definitely one of the smartest guys that I’ve had coach me.

“I talked with J.T. Miller, who played with him in New York, and we were talking about Marty a bit,” Pearson added. “It’s crazy how knowledgeable he is about the game and the way he thinks it it’s pretty cool to learn. I haven’t had a coach like that since Dale Hawerchuk in junior (with the OHL’s Barrie Colts). Those high-end level players, they think the game the same way. Sometimes they’re explaining something to you that’s regular for them, but they got to extra explain it to you. The way they think it is pretty cool.”

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Reader question No. 1.

Marc Blanchard (@MarcB_86) sent me this question on Twitter for St. Louis: “Does Marty have a hard time going out in public in MTL? Or do people generally leave him alone.”

I asked St. Louis the question after practice Friday.

“I understand what Montreal brings as a coach of the Montreal Canadiens, as an ex-player,” St. Louis said. “It doesn’t change much for me because I’m not the guy that’s going to sit home and do nothing because I don’t want to interact with anybody that’s going to want to talk to me. Honestly, I’m doing the same thing and I enjoy that. If I can bring somebody a smile to take a picture, how many people can you make their day that day? It’s an opportunity for me, so I don’t sit home and do nothing.”

Pleasure vs. pleasure

Juraj Slafkovsky looked like he was having a lot of fun during the Canadiens’ season opener.

The 19-year-old had a huge smile on his face when he got back to the bench after making a beautiful pass to Alex Newhook for his first of two goals that gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead 1:10 into the second period.

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That would have also put a smile on St. Louis’s face.

“I would like him to not put so much pressure on himself,” St. Louis said about the No. 1 overall pick at last year’s NHL Draft before the Canadiens’ final pre-season game last Saturday in Ottawa. “To me it’s pressure vs. pleasure. He’s got to have fun. There’s got to be a purpose in each and every day, but he’s got to have fun because if you don’t have fun you stop getting better. So as coaches we got to be careful in understanding that pressure vs. pleasure. We got to be careful in not killing his passion, rushing him because we want him to be perfect now and that’s not going to happen.”

Slafkovsky finished the season with the one assist and a plus-2 differential while logging 15:27 of ice time and said it was probably his best game in the NHL.

“I felt really good and played a lot,” Slafkovsky said Thursday. “I had the puck a lot.”

As for his relationship with St. Louis, Slafkovsky said: “We’ve had a few meetings and we’re talking a lot. We have a good relationship. It’s only helpful when you have a good relationship with your coach. … We’ve sat down a few times and he showed me some (video) clips. We just went through some clips, he told me some stuff. I was just trying to use that on the ice to my advantage.

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“It’s really helpful at the end of the day to have a guy like Marty, who played so many years in the league and understands the game really well to give you some — not advice — but trying to help you.”

Reader question No. 2

Nathan Hall (@cobourg1) asked me this question on Twitter: “What kind of season will Juraj Slafkovsky have?”

On this week’s HI/O Show, I predicted Slafkovsky will score 12 goals after getting four goals in 39 games last season as an 18-year-old rookie.

St. Louis is certainly giving Slafkovsky every opportunity to score more than 12 goals to start the season, playing him on the second line with Dach and Newhook and also putting him on the second power-play unit.

Before taking Slafkovsky with the No. 1 overall pick at last year’s NHL Draft, general manager Kent Hughes said he wanted the player who would be the best in the future, not necessarily right now. The Canadiens believed that player was Slafkovsky and they are being patient with his development.

At this point in his career development, Slafkovsky reminds me of Joe Thornton, who was the No. 1 overall pick by the Boston Bruins at the 1997 NHL Draft. As a big 18-year-old rookie, Thornton posted 3-4-7 totals in 55 games. In his second season with the Bruins, Thornton had 16-25-41 totals in 81 games.

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Sixteen goals for Slafkovsky this season would be a big success in my opinion.

Teammates appreciate Xhekaj

After watching Arber Xhekaj manhandle the Maple Leafs’ Ryan Reaves and push him into the back of the net and then take him to the ice while throwing a right-hand punch during their first-period fight Wednesday night, I was reminded of a scene outside the Canadiens’ locker room following a road game last season.

After the game, Xhekaj was doing several pushups with a 50-pound weight on his back in the makeshift gym.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defenceman is remarkably strong and he showed that against the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Reaves in his first fight since suffering a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery in a fight against the Edmonton Oilers’ Vincent Desharnais last February.

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Xhekaj sits beside fellow defenceman Johnathan Kovacevic in the locker room at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard and they share a strong bond, both having parents who immigrated to Canada from Europe looking for a better life and settled in Hamilton, Ont. Xhekaj’s father, also Arber (but known as Jack), left Albania and his mother, Simona, fled the Czech Republic. Kovacevic’s father, Novica, and mother, Angie, left Yugoslavia and they eventually met in Hamilton, just like Xhekaj’s parents did.

“The fans, everyone on the team loves what he does,” Kovacevic said Thursday about Xhekaj. “But I understand that he’s got a hard job to do, too. It’s not easy doing what he does. That’s why everyone in the room, we have a lot of respect for him. In a way, he enjoys doing that, too. He enjoys the pressure and he makes the most of it.”

Xhekaj dropped the gloves with Reaves after the new Maple Leafs’ tough-guy hit defencemen Kaiden Guhle hard from behind into the boards.

“For us, he was doing it to stick up for Guhls,” Kovacevic said. “I feel like he kind of got hit from behind there, Arber steps in. Kind of shows himself, shows the league that the shoulder’s feeling great. He’s someone that we love to have on our side. He’s a kind of guy that he doesn’t want anyone messing with his guys. We’re a family in here and he doesn’t want anyone messing with his family and that’s what you saw yesterday.”

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While fighting is declining in the NHL, Kovacevic doesn’t think it will be ever be eliminated from such a physical game where things can happen so quickly.

“As humans we almost have in us to protect each other,” Kovacevic said. “We’re a family and you’ve got that emotional switch, I guess, when you feel like someone’s messing with your own.”

Xhekaj arrived in style at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena for Wednesday’s game dressed in a bleu-blanc-rouge suit.

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Tinordi finds home in Chicago

Connor Bedard was a month shy of his fifth birthday when the Canadiens selected Jarred Tinordi in the first round (22nd overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft.

Now they’re teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks and they will face the Canadiens Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

At age 31, Tinordi is writing quite a comeback story.

The 6-foot-6, 229-pound defenceman played only 46 games over four seasons with the Canadiens before getting traded to the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 15, 2016 (along with Stefan Fournier) in exchange for John Scott and Victor Bartley.

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Tinordi only played seven games with the Coyotes and then spent four seasons in the AHL before returning to the NHL during the 2019-20 season to play 28 games with the Nashville Predators.

Tinordi played seven games with Nashville in 2020-21 before being claimed off waivers by Boston and playing 14 games for the Bruins. He signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers during the summer of 2021, but only played seven games with them in 2021-22 and ended up back in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Chicago claimed Tinordi off waivers in October last year and he played 44 games with the Blackhawks, posting 2-6-8 totals.

Tinordi averaged 14:09 of ice time in the Blackhawks’ first two games this season — a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins and a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.

“I know the position that I’m in,” Tinordi told reporters in Chicago during training camp. “My career’s kind of been up and down my whole career. I was a waiver pickup last year and I was fighting to be an everyday player, I was fighting to be in the lineup every night. I think for me that drive kind of never goes away. I think I’ve been fighting for every spot that I’ve had in my whole career. It’s fun to see the young guys coming up and you want to help them as much as possible, but it’s also I want to play and this is my livelihood, too.”

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Tinordi has a one-year, US$1.25-million contract.

Prospects watch

Defenceman Lane Hutson, selected by the Canadiens in the second round (62nd overall) of the 2022 NHL Draft, scored the winning goal in overtime for Boston University in a season-opening 3-2 win over Bentley last Saturday and was named the Hockey East Player of the Week.

As a freshman last season, the 5-foot-10, 162-pound Hutson (what he is now listed at on the Boston University website) had 15-33-48 totals in 39 games and had a plus-25 differential while becoming the first defenceman in Hockey East history to win the league scoring title. Boston University won the league championship with Hutson scoring two goals — including the winner in overtime — in a 3-2 victory over Merrimack in the championship game.

When asked about the hype surrounding him at the end of the Canadiens’ development camp in July, the 19-year-old Hutson said: “I just try not to look too much into it. I just go out there and have fun every day. It’s a fun game to play. I just try to have fun.”

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Jacob Fowler, selected by the Canadiens in the third round (69th overall) of this year’s NHL Draft, was named the Hockey East Goalie of the Week after stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced to earn a win in his Boston College debut last Saturday, beating Quinnipiac 2-1 in overtime

Birthday boys

Happy birthday to former Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, who turns 74 on Saturday. Schultz still holds the NHL record for most penalty minutes in a season with 472 during the 1974-75 season when the “Broad Street Bullies” won their first of two straight Stanley Cups.

Willie O’Ree, who became the first Black player in the NHL when he played for the Boston Bruins in a 3-0 victory over the Canadiens at the Forum on Jan. 18 1958, turns 88 on Sunday.

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