Typically, NHL players don their jerseys at preseason charity golf tournaments for the benefit of sponsors and fans, but for the Montreal Canadiens, they were also handy for identifying new teammates.
The Canadiens, with seven new faces in the lineup this season - and 10 deletions from last year's roster - held the unofficial kickoff to their new season at the swank Laval-Sur-Le-Lac club northwest of Montreal yesterday, the first occasion for all the members of the team to gather under the same festival tent.
"I was pretty excited to see a lot of new faces, [but]I miss a lot of the old guys," said third-year goaltender Carey Price. "I've met all the guys we've acquired and I really like them, I think we're going to have a really good chemistry this year."
General manager Bob Gainey said the team's off-season strategy centred on high-priced former Rangers centre Scott Gomez, a stylish playmaker coming off a pair of subpar seasons.
"The mass overhaul wasn't planned … that's how it unfolded and now we're going to have to form into a team with new players and new coaches," Gainey said. "I think it will be an exciting challenge and there will be exciting results."
Gomez, who came to the team in a trade in late June, sought to play down his role this season.
"There's a lot of great guys coming in … the success that we're going to have is going to be from all the guys in the room," Gomez said. He joins erstwhile linemate Brian Gionta in Montreal - the two played together as young teens - as well as former Calgary winger Mike Cammalleri, who shares the same agent as the Alaskan-born Gomez.
"The feeling is it's a little bit of a fresh start, it's a little bit of a team that needs to find its identity," Cammalleri said. "It's just as exciting for us to see how this comes as it might be for a fan."
"This is the biggest [change]I've ever seen … knowing the organization wants to build a winning team, you want to be here for that," added Gionta, whose Hab unveiling took an awkward turn when his golf clubs were misplaced. "You've got speed, some big tough guys, I think it's a great mix."
The fact that none of the new players speak French - although Gomez is taking lessons and joked he has successfully ordered in a local restaurant - has not gone unnoticed in the Quebec media, where several high-profile columnists have criticized the team for employing only three francophone players this year.
But Gainey dismissed the kerfuffle as "part of the spice" associated with the Habs and their rabid supporters.
The day opened with a public handshake between outgoing owner George N. Gillett and successor Geoffrey E. Molson, whose family-led consortium hopes to finalize the details of a $575-million (U.S.) purchase agreement over the next two or three weeks.
Gillett fought back tears for much of a news conference, saying the club was "more than an asset, it was a love affair."
The bilingual, 38-year-old Molson will be the new chairman of the board. Gainey and current team president Pierre Boivin will remain in their current jobs.
The ownership consortium includes telecom giant BCE, the Thomson family's Woodbridge Company - who together control The Globe and Mail's parent company - the Quebec Labour Federation's Solidarity Fund, French-born transport company owner Michael Andlauer, who owns the Canadiens' Hamilton farm team, and former Montreal Stock Exchange supremo Luc Bertrand.
The final sale price and detailed composition of the ownership shares was not revealed. The Molsons will be the principal owners and will reacquire the 19.9-per-cent stake held by the family brewery.