In anticipation of the commencement of the High Holy Days, Sammy Rapps, family patriarch and former president of family-owned and operated Calego International Inc. (for whom I work), invited his greatly respected friend, Rabbi Fine, to share some insight on the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and of the Jewish faith. Curious, I sat in on Rabbi Fine's discussion, which I would learn was meant to assist in the traditional process of self-examination leading up to the Day of Judgment and the New Year.
Rosh Hashanah, Fine explained, is a time to reflect upon one's relationship with God. The only things over which a person has any true control, he suggested, are their dignity and their relationship with God, which is a perfect reflection of their character and actions.
Similarly, the character and actions (or more specifically, the abilities) of NHL hopefuls come to be scrutinized in the days leading up to their own day of judgment and, concurrent with the Hebrew calendar, the latter part of September (Elul) opens this process. In that time, the Montreal Canadiens, among others, gathered their prospects and perennials for physicals, training camp and the start of a series of evaluations.
Following a concentrated schedule of practices and 6 preseason games in 7 nights, Montreal's players and personnel were finally granted a day of rest on the first eve of Rosh Hashanah this past Monday. In following with the traditional interpretation of the holiday, Monday was also a day of judgment for the Canadiens as 16 players were re-assigned to Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton and 2 others returned to their respective Junior clubs in the team's first major round of cuts.
It is told that Rosh Hashanah is marked by the opening of three books of account, into which the fates of three classes of people are written: the righteous, whose names are inscribed in the Book of Life and are sealed "to live"; the wicked, who are immediately blotted out of the Book of Life; and an intermediate class, who are given a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to prove their worth and become righteous.*
Hab hopefuls, too, were effectively divided into three groups on that day: the righteous, comprised of the established stars and veterans of the group alongside the key young players who had proved their worth last season and who by conventional wisdom are locks to hold their spots on the big team; the wicked, who are not 'wicked' so much as they are just not ready to compete at the highest level and were effectively blotted out of the team's starting roster by being immediately re-assigned; and the intermediaries, made up of the few prospects who made an early impression and were granted at the very least a longer look in the preseason.
Aptly called the 'Days of Awe' (Yamim Noraim), the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provide a true test of these intermediaries, at once holding the potential to strike 'bubble' players with utter trepidation or, conversely, to allow them the opportunity to absolutely astonish the management and coaching staff. Maybe, just maybe, one or two of these players can find their way into the Book of Life on that opening night roster card, but in this instance they'll have to make a case strong enough to displace somebody already on that list to do so.
For Gregory Stewart, Matt D'Agostini and Ben Maxwell, last night marked the end of their stay with the big club, for now anyways, and with it the end of their days of awe in the midst of 21,273 screaming fans and unparalleled media attention. Survivors Max Pacioretty, Kyle Chipchura and Yannick Weber will live to fight another day and will be granted a longer interlude during which to forge a lasting impression, including one final preseason game this Saturday against Minnesota.
All things being considered, final judgments and roster decisions will be passed from on high just prior to the observance of Yom Kippur on the 9th of October and the official debut of the Canadiens' 2008-09 Season on the 10th. Between now and then, the process of self-examination undertaken during these high holidays will represent gut-check time for three young men aspiring to don the bleu-blanc-rouge in particular.
Whether Rosh Hashanah or Frosh des Habitants, reflection and renewal are in the air. Past strengths and deficiencies have been identified and, hopefully, addressed. It's October--the start of a new year and a new hockey season... here's hoping it's a good one--Shana Tova!