Pierre Gervais isn’t a name that rings a bell to a lot of hockey fans. But it should be. After all, Gervais has had a front row seat to some of the biggest international hockey moments of the last 15 years.
Celebrating his 30th season with the Montreal Canadiens organization this year, and his eighth as the team’s head equipment manager, Gervais is headed to Sochi to serve in the same role with Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team for the fourth consecutive Games.
He’s already a two-time Olympic gold medallist, in 2002 and 2010, in addition to winning silver with Canada at the 2005 IIHF World Championship, and a victory at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
Oh, and Gervais – who recently reached the 2,000-game plateau in the NHL – has won the Stanley Cup, too; he was assistant equipment manager with the Canadiens when they won their 24th and most recent championship in 1993.
But regardless of his résumé, Gervais knows how special it is to be asked to join Team Canada. “It’s an honour,” he says. “It’s not something you just apply for; it’s the team’s general manager that gives you a call and chooses you.”
And the Olympic calls to Gervais have come from two pretty big names in the hockey world – Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman.
“None of us expected to be there this year. But when you get a personal call from Steve Yzerman asking for your services, you just can’t say no.”
Anyone who has met or worked with Gervais knows his passion for the game is matched only by his generosity. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to many that he didn’t immediately say yes when Yzerman asked him to be a part of the 2014 staff, largely because he didn’t want to deny someone else the chance to experience what he had already experienced.
“I asked Steve if he was sure he wanted me there. I had been to three Olympic Games already, plus I have grandchildren I would’ve liked to spend some of my off time with. Even before the last Games in Vancouver I had asked if they wanted to give someone else a chance.
“Steve explained to me that he thought these would be very challenging Games and that he would much prefer having experienced guys for the event.
With the Canadian roster named just over a month prior to the Olympics, and the possibility of roster changes right up until the first puck drops, Gervais is the first to admit that great preparation is the key to success.
“Let’s just say my first Games were filled with surprises,” he says. “Now, I know more what to expect.”
With Sochi a little more out of the way than your average Olympic host city, and because of unprecedented security measures, players and personnel were advised to bring everything that they would need because incoming deliveries would not be allowed during the Games.
“You have to be sure you’ve got everything ready before you leave; there is no room for error,” Gervais says. “If you forget something, there will be no FedEx delivery guy who brings it to you on the next day!
“As soon as the roster was named, we sent forms to all of the selected players respective equipment managers. They had to fill them out by mentioning the size of the equipment the player wanted, while adding the small details, like special needs or what type of sharpening they want for their skates.”
Once those forms were filled out and returned to Hockey Canada, Gervais and the rest of the training and equipment staff gathered the results and dispatched the necessary equipment to the players. “The players receive their gloves, helmets and sticks a few days before we leave,” he says. “It allows them to break their gear in and to notify us of any last-minute changes they want to make.”
Although Gervais has pretty much seen it all in his travels with Hockey Canada, the 2014 Olympic Winter Games will present a new situation, albeit a welcome one – for the first time, he won’t be Montreal’s lone representative; goaltender Carey Price and defenceman P.K. Subban will join Gervais in Sochi.
“Having P.K. and Carey there, it will be great for the team,” he says. “I am extremely proud for both those young men; they both work so hard and they definitely deserve it.
“Plus, it’s also a bonus for me. I have two guys less that I have to get to know!”
As for a favourite Team Canada moment, Gervais goes back 12 years to his very first Olympic experience.
“All the Olympics were great, but I have to say that the Salt Lake City gold medal (in 2002) was my favourite. Not only were they my very first Olympics, but Canada won its first hockey gold medal in 50 years! It was definitely a special feeling to win.”