Why Was Benjamin Conz Never Signed?

It’s that time of the year folks. Yes it’s holiday season, and no matter what holiday you choose to celebrate, the entire team and Not Your Average Hockey Blog would like to wish you happy holidays. However, it’s also World Junior time! Before you ask, yes I’m doing my patriotic duty and cheering for Canada.

This time of the year is also the only time of the year where the name Benjamin Conz gets floated around. As a Canada fan, it’s hard to forget the 48 save game versus the Canadians. Don’t remember? Here are some highlights:

However, his game versus the Russians was the one the stuck out to me. Prior to the game, the Swiss were rightfully considered heavy underdogs, but Benjamin Conz stood on his head, stopping 50 of 52 shots for the win. Highlights from that game:

Honestly, that is where I thought he earned his IIHF Best Player Award for the tournament. However, I’m sidetracking. This post is where I question why he hasn’t been signed, and not where I reminisce about his prior play.

Why hasn’t he signed an NHL contract? Heck for that matter why hasn’t he signed a KHL contract? There are plenty of theories and I’m going to go on a disclaimer right here and start off by saying maybe he has been offered a contract but chose not to sign it? I have no clue, nor am I going to pretend to know. I’ve heard a few arguments over the years, and I am here to debunk as many of them as possible.

“The IIHF Best Player Award for goaltenders is meaningless.”
Since 1990, there have been only two goalies who have won the award that didn’t end up being drafted by an NHL team. The two players? Benjamin Conz in 2010 and Yevgeni Tarasov in 1995. Players such as Tukka Rask (2006), Carey Price (2007), Petr Mrazek (2012) have all won the award and are now either top goalies in the league or developing very good goalies. The IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships have always been a showcase of the best players from all over the world and to be crowned the best of the best, has always meant something and always will mean something.

“The NHL doesn’t scout the Swiss Leagues.”
It would be irresponsible for NHL scouts to not scout a certain area. Just because many draft picks don’t come from that area, it doesn’t mean NHL teams don’t scout that area. Also, does the name Roman Josi ring a bell? Guess where he was drafted from? The NLA; the same league Benjamin Conz currently plays in. I’m sure a team or two sent scouts to do due diligence, maybe they saw something they didn’t like?

“He wasn’t a good enough player back then, and isn’t a good enough player now either.”
In the NHL Central Scouting Bureau Final Rankings of 2009, he was ranked 8th. Who was near him? Anders Nilsson (5th), Joni Ortio (7th), Igor Bobkov (10th), Antti Raanta (11th). All these players have played in the NHL, so clearly he was a good enough player back then. He’s currently going through a bad season, but his last two seasons have been outstanding; having a sv% of .929 and .916. Now you might say those numbers are pedestrian-like, but he also has a GAA of 2.24 and 2.61 during that time, which looks much better in my opinion. Clearly he’s been a good goalie before, and has continued to be a strong performer. So what’s the issue?

“He’s too small to be a goalie in the NHL”
That’s the most common argument. “You have to be huge to play goalie in the NHL.” It’s true. The average goalie in the NHL is 6’2, and Benjamin Conz is 5’11 (everywhere but the Fribourg-Gottéron website)/6’1 (the Fribourg-Gottéron website). There are four goalies in the NHL who aren’t 6 feet are taller. So yes size does matter. However, unorthodox playing style and his deep position in net help compensate for his height issues.

So what does it all mean? Is he never going to be in an NHL uniform? Not necessarily. He’s only 23 years old. Goaltender Jonas Hiller was signed out of the NLA at age 25. However, Hiller had an opportunity to showcase his abilities playing in the Spengler Cup with HC Davos, while Conz won’t have that chance playing for Fribourg-Gottéron. He will need seasoning at the AHL level before he can debut in the NHL, so his window is still open at age 23, but it’s closing fast. If he cannot get a contract by age 25 or 26, I do not believe he will ever be able to get a contract in the NHL.

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Things I found out about my hometown hero Jean Béliveau

I was 6 years-old the only time I saw Jean Béliveau in person. He had just retired from the game in 1971 and he was sitting comfortably in that blue convertible car, waving and saluting the legion of fans on Notre-Dame Street in Victoriaville, Quebec. That’s the name of the town where the man himself developed as a hockey player at the family house backyard ice surface. It’s also the town where I lived from the time I was 3 years-old until I turned 17. My dad, a huge Bruins fan all his life, had mentioned Bobby Orr a few times but I can honesty say that Jean Béliveau is the first French-Canadian hockey player I had ever heard of by the time I started Grade 2. Actually I didn’t even know there was a NHL. The city of Victoriaville’s only arena back then was bearing the name Jean Béliveau. That was the place where I learned how to skate at 4 and play in organized leagues at 6. On the weekends many friends, my brother and I would head to the Aréna Jean Béliveau to play and watch hockey games. Any game. Gilbert Perreault was also a hometown boy so hockey was very popular there. With time, way after I left, the city acquired a QMJHL team, demolished the old arena and rebuilt the Colisée Jean Béliveau known today as the Colisée Desjardins. There is a section in the Colisée named after him which is red, white and blue. Of course he was present at the official opening of the section.

Fans attending a junior game in Victoriaville last Saturday showed their appreciation for the local legend.

I never saw Jean Béliveau play from my own eyes. Not even on TV. I was too young when he retired. I had the chance at some point to catch up with his hockey career and what he accomplished. Since he passed away on December 2 I found out or was reminded of his greatness as a hockey player and as a man.  I gathered a few facts, stats, anecdotes and stories about the legendary #4 I meant to share with you:

  • He did not always wear the jersey #4 with the Canadiens. He wore the #17 and #20 for the only 2 games he played during the 1950-51 season. He also wore the #12 for 3 games played in 1952-53. He wore the #17 again for the first game of the season in 1953-54. The second game against Chicago on October 8, 1953, he wore the number 4 for the first time.
  • He never scored 50 goals in one single season.
  • After he scored 3 goals in 44 seconds during a power play on November 5, 1955, the NHL rule was changed the next season to allow the penalized player to return to play if a goal was scored against his team during the penalty.
  • Béliveau’s name appears on the Stanley Cup a record 17 times, 10 as a player and the other 7 as an executive. Only Henri Richard has won more Stanley Cup as a player with 11.
  • He still holds the record for the fastest Cup-winning goal from the start of the game in League history scoring 14 seconds into game 7 vs Chicago. A game that would end 4-0.
  • In 1961, he was elected captain by his peers. He wore the “C” for the next 10 years, which remains the longest tenure of any captain in club history.
  • He was the first player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance in the 1965 Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • He is the first and only captain to win the Conn Smythe and score the game-winning goal in the same night.
  • After winning the Stanley Cup for a last NHL game in 1971, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived the usual 3-year waiting period and immediately inducted Béliveau in 1972.
  • He was known to sign autographs for as long as it took especially after games. His signature is classic and a recognizable one for any collector of hockey cards or memorabilias. When teammates would ask him why he cared so much his answer was that it was his duty.
  • When the Canadiens celebrated his 500th goal he refused a car or a cheque from the club. Instead the ”Jean Béliveau Foundation” was established and he was able to donate $155,855.00 to the start-up fund that night. The foundation is meant to help children in need. Its administration was assumed by him until a decade ago. He left clear instructions on how the funds should be used.

Beliveaufund__2__medium

During the days that followed his death many stories were heard including some special and personal anecdotes from callers on radio shows:

  • One man from Kapuskasing, Ont. said that as kids him and his friend were in Montreal and decided to climb the fence to see if Jean Béliveau was at his house. They located him next to his pool wearing a swim trunk. Béliveau spotted them, offered them to come over and eventually signed a picture his wife took of the boys next to her husband.
  • A caller said he was shoveling snow as a boy in 1961 to bring extra money home for his family when he knocked at Jean Béliveau’s door and offered to shovel at his place for 2$. The hockey player agreed and ended up giving a 5$ bill. That same night, the man said his parents told him who was that tall man living in that house. He had not recognized the #4.
  • Another caller said that he fell off his bike about 20 years ago and as he tried to get back up he saw a hand. As he looked up to see who it was he saw Jean Béliveau standing. Béliveau offered to bring him at the hospital but the man said he would be fine. He brought him home and told the injured man he would send him a puck with his autograph as requested. Weeks later, the man received a thicker package than usual with the Montreal Canadiens logo on it.
  • Many people told stories about him visiting sick children unannounced during and after his career as player. He would show up at arenas to watch kids play and enter dressing rooms with the permission of coaches.
  • He was extremely popular with women of all ages who started to follow hockey because of him.
  • When the fans at Bell Centre started to show disrespect toward the American anthem years ago, the Canadiens had a tape played before the anthems one night. It was Jean Béliveau’s voice reminding all those attending to stand up, remove hats and caps and remain respectful throughout the singing of both anthems. That was the end of it.
  • He said prior to retirement that he would never play for another team.
  • Habs co-owner and CEO Geoff Molson – his two brothers Andrew and Justin are co-owners – said he was 4 when his father Eric introduced him to Jean Béliveau. Some thirty-five years later, Geoff asked Béliveau to be his special advisor when he took over the destiny of the Molson family who owns the team.
  • I could go on and on…

He was the greatest ambassador of the Montreal Canadiens throughout 7 decades. Especially the ones that followed his playing career. He is the one who came up with the idea to have a room where former players could go and meet before, during and after games. Former Habs Vincent Damphousse said that whenever Béliveau would enter the room it would become silent. as if royalty was walking in. He has his chair of course. Damphousse added that those who were present when Béliveau was there had to behave as gentlemen in the room. On Monday, Guy Lafleur addressed the media and was particularly touched by the death of his idol he met when he was 10. Lafleur said that he wore number 4 from the time he started to play in organized leagues until he was drafted by the Canadiens. The ”Flower” added that he tried to be as good an ambassador and model as Béliveau was but it was a tough act to follow. Lafleur, along with Serge Savard, will probably be the next French-Canadians and former Habs to receive a somewhat similar honor one day. Ken Dryden is another one that brings a lot of great memories here in Quebec. But Jean Béliveau is from another era. One that is definitely closing in with another legend Gordie Howe who will soon pass away. About Béliveau, a newspaper headline was titled ”Pope of Hockey Died” last week. Or the ”Gentle Giant”. The man who would make you feel like you are special according to many who met them. A modest man living in a simple house on the south shore of Montreal with a great view of the city he spent his whole career and most of his life. From the day of his death to the day of his funeral, the national tribute lasted 9 days. Fans of all ages were able to walk by his casket for two days at Bell Centre. It was the first time I ever listened to a funeral on radio. Repeats of his funeral are still on TV as I write this. I admit I shed a few tears when Ken Dryden spoke at the cathedral on Wednesday. I felt proud the legendary #4 was French-Canadian like me and that he lived during my time and sad that he will no longer be around.

Au revoir et merci Monsieur Béliveau!

 

 

 

How I Tried To Be An Insider

Before I start this, I have to admit something, yes this is partly influenced by the Joshua Kusnick article that you can read here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=25125 It’s a great read. This isn’t really a life story but it has bits and parts of my own story trying to become an hockey insider. 

Just like most young sports fans on Twitter I wanted to be part of the action. I wanted to break news. There’s a lot of people like me out there. But I didn’t want to make stuff up. I’d hate to see you guys have to make stuff up, so I’d like to help. Here’s what I did. I met a guy or two. Follow this and I both cannot and will not guarantee you will find a source. 

  1. Do not badger people. A lot of people will say no. Remember they’re doing you a favour. They’re not getting anything in return. Sometimes people will throw you a bone. 
  2. Do not ever gloat about who your sources are. If you get a source that’s a scout for Team A, do not gloat that your source is a scout within Team A. Use a quick google search, each team has 15-20 scouts. How hard do you think it is for front office to quickly find these guys? It’s not hard. If you gloat, your source will get in trouble with their respective team, and no one will ever work with you again.
  3. Start from the bottom. Minor league teams have front office members too! Sure the breaking NHL news is really cool, but no one is going to leak that information to you the first day you’re on the job. Start with a D-3 NCAA for example. Show that you’re a reliable person, and maybe someone will try help you out.
  4. Meet these guys in person. Would you risk your career for a person you’ve never met? Go to games, meet some of these guys and form a relationship with them. Get a business card or their contact and talk to them. Don’t ask for secrets right away. That’s a little weird don’t you think? Show that you’re reliable and you should get their trust.
  5. The first one is the hardest. Once you get the ball rolling, and you’re starting to develop a name for yourself, it gets easier. It’s like cooking a steak. The first steak you make might not end up well. However, each time you make a steak after, it becomes easier! Just because the first guy said no to you, keep working on it!

So those are some of the secrets I follow. I’m not an insider, I’m just a blogger.   Yes I know, some of these points are similar/repeated from the article, but they’re true in both cases, and I felt they were the most important.

Do you have any questions? Fill out the contact form below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

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