SUN Hockey Pool

Supreme highs and lows

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Consider this to be a sort of twisted Valentine's Day card from Sheldon Souray to his ex.

"It's like my relationship with my ex-wife," he said of his ex-hockey town.

"When it was great, it was great. When it was bad, it was bad."

There are a lot of comparisons between playing hockey in Edmonton, where the Oilers have won five Stanley Cups in 30 years and Montreal where the Canadiens have won 24 in 100 years.

"But really, there isn't a comparison," says Souray.

Montreal is better.

Montreal is worse.

At the moment we're dealing with worse as Souray prepares to play his first game against Montreal after six seasons as a Hab.

SIMILAR STRUGGLES

It's an interesting time to make the comparisons as Montreal's storied squad, picked by many to win the NHL East this year, comes in here on a six-game road losing streak, stumbling and bumbling like the Ottawa Senators were at Christmas time against an Oilers team many figured to be at the top of the division tables. But Edmonton managed to be the only team Ottawa lost to on an eight-game road trip when they came in with eight losses in their last 10 games.

Souray, like Georges Laraque on the other bench, may be among the few to experience the two best/worst places to play in Canada but gives the best example of Montreal versus Edmonton when it comes to the downside.

With the Oilers recently having lost 10-2 and 9-2 at home, Souray said it could have been worse.

"It could have been in Montreal. You lose 10-2 in the Bell Centre and it gets personal."

There is one thing worse in Edmonton when you've been booed off the ice on several occasions, says Souray.

"That walk," he says of running the gauntlet of fans at the event level bar on the way from the bench to the dressing room where someday a player might end up parting somebody's hair with his hockey stick.

"Fans have been drinking and they're chirping," he said of spit and abuse directed at Dwayne Roloson, Craig MacTavish and Dustin Penner, in particular, this season.

"You guys are going to give it to us enough," Souray said of the Edmonton media. "We don't need to take it from somebody drinking a double Jack and Coke."

Souray says he can't imagine having to make the same walk in the Bell Centre.

The two towns are a study in good times and bad.

"Montreal is the world's Mecca of hockey, with two languages, 24 Stanley Cups and 100 years of history. There's a big difference," he said of the overall comparison.

"Not to take anything away from Edmonton, which certainly knows how to turn up the heat on the hockey club. But there's no place you feel the heat like Montreal.

"When you're playing well, it's hard to find a better place, either. It's far and away the best place and the worst place to play."

History puts pressure on players here, but not like anything compared to what Souray figures the Canadiens are experiencing as they suddenly find themselves in the toilet in their centennial season.

"I think, with the 100th season, they intentionally put a lot of pressure as a challenge to the team with the all-star game, the draft and everything. They've responded to it up to now."

Souray says he thinks he's well suited to play in these two cities.

"I have thick skin. I can take criticism."

Souray admires Canadiens captain Saku Koivu that way.

"He takes the criticism. The French media criticizes him because he's the captain and doesn't speak French. But he plays well, plays hard, leading the team.

"In Montreal and Edmonton there is no place to hide," he said of days when you go to a restaurant and days when you stay home. "These are two cities where Bell ExpressVu can come in handy."

He says playing in Montreal or Edmonton prepares you to play in the other city.

"You know when it's better not to go out to a restaurant. People know who you are."

Souray says his relationship with Les Canadiens ended up the same way as with his ex-wife: "It ran its course."

THIS IS A BUSINESS

The difference is, this is hockey.

"Business is business. One thing I learned is that it is nothing personal," he says of the contract stalemate with Bob Gainey which ended up bringing him here.

"I've been here a couple of years now," said the product of Elk Point. "And I've never looked back. I don't have any regrets."

Like Montreal, he says, "it's a great place to play when you're playing well. They love you."

So far so good for Souray here. They love him. Almost as much as they used to love Laraque.


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