As the Montreal Canadiens get set to celebrate their official centenary this Friday, it promises to be a momentous week that drives home what it means to be a Montreal Canadien.
''I think that the players are as aware as they can be,'' Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey told TSN of the week ahead. ''If I relate to myself when I was 20 or 21 years old, I didn't have that weighted idea of how important it was to be a Canadien. I just wanted to be in the moment, I wanted to be in the NHL, I wanted to be on a good team and be part of a championship team.
''I really think that the players who are here with us have those same aspirations and goals. And as they grow older and see how things happen around them, I think they will understand more and more how lucky they are to play for at least part of their career with a team like the Montreal Canadiens.''
Gainey, a living example of what it means to represent the great franchise, has been a part of the Canadiens family since putting on the jersey as a rookie in 1973. He captained the franchise for over seven years, winning four consecutive Selke Trophies and capturing five Stanley Cups with le bleu, blanc et rouge.
Following his retirement in 1989, Gainey spent time as head coach and general manager of the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars, leading the franchise to the Stanley Cup in 1999. In 2003, he became general manager of the Canadiens, a position he's held since.
''There is a very responsible and public position being a player with the Montreal Canadiens and it's highlighted a little more with the role I've been in for the past six and a half years,'' Gainey said of the differences in the responsibility versus putting the sweater on rather than holding the reigns of the entire organization. ''They're both great opportunities and both in the public eye, but I had a lot of great times in both of these rolls.''
The Peterborough, Ontario native, whose No. 23 was retired in February of 2008, described his emotion leading up Friday's anniversary.
''As we come to the end of the 100th year for the NHL team, I've been able to participate in 21 to 22 percent of it,'' said Gainey. ''I think I'm really fortunate and happy to have this opportunity. I've learned a lot by being with the organization and I learned a lot from the opportunity to live in Montreal for a pretty big chunk of my life. I'm very fortunate and really happy that I got to have such a big chunk of my life placed here with the Canadiens.''
The Canadiens begin their week with a trio of division rivals leading up to Friday's celebration.
First up, the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Bell Centre on Tuesday evening (TSN, 7pm et/4pm pt), the third match up this season and second in Montreal.
''We still have a really intense, deep and longstanding revelry with the Leafs,'' said Gainey. ''We're divisional rivals again and I think that a playoff series would definitely enhance that rivalry. I think it would be exciting; we'd look forward to that. I wish we could both be there to play each other this year.''
The Canadiens then fly out to Buffalo to take on the Sabres on Thursday night before returning home on Friday to face off against the Boston Bruins in their Centennial game, which begins with a two-hour pre-game celebration.
''There will be a lot of video, there will be recognition of the 700-plus players who have worn the Canadiens jersey over the years,'' said Gainey. ''Recognitions of the accomplishments of the franchise - not the least of which is still functioning and being a good team and a good part of the community 100 years later and I think for anyone who's able to be here in person, it's going to be a great night for hockey fans and for Montreal fans.''