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Slafkovsky or the first symphony of a young virtuoso
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky… Slafkovsky!

Thanks to an excellent friend (let’s call him “Scoop”) who regularly gets me great tickets to excellent “gratissssss” shows around town, I had the immense privilege of hearing and seeing Beethoven’s “heroic”3rd Symphony on Thursday evening, a major work in four movements… originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte! It also marked the return of Maestro Kent Nagano, always acclaimed as a “rock star” when he returns to “his” Maison symphonique.

Looking for a topic for my weekly column, this magical evening in the company of “Scoop”, Nagano and Beethoven strangely inspired me to reflect on the season of the 20-year-old prodigy – another “rock star” in his own way – whom the Canadiens have wisely drafted into the first rank, right in the middle of the Bell Centre in the summer of 2022: Juraj Slafkovsky.

While not perfect, the Slovak’s second campaign – his first full season – can be interpreted as his first great symphony. And like most symphonic works, it can be broken down into the four distinct movements we’ve all seen.

Let’s unpack them all!

1. Rapid movement

Slafkovsky’s symphony began, as tradition dictates, with a fast movement. In his case, very fast! It goes back to the very first game of the season, when he was on fire alongside Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook, ending the evening with a sublime pass and a +2 record. His line literally tipped the ice against the Leafs in the curtain-raiser.

At the time, we were thinking that we might be witnessing something grandiose…

2. Slow movement

Still in the purest symphonic tradition, the Slafer ‘s season then took a much slower and sadder turn, a kind of “funeral march”, which led them to November 12 with a record of just two points in 15 games. It was during this movement that the whispers of the crowd and certain sports columns sent him to Laval or to the morgue of the legendary ” flops ” chosen from the front row…

But the most astute observers, starting with Maestro St-Louis, could see that, despite the statistics, Slafkovsky’s game showed promise of great things… He was being quietly prepared, step by step, for greater responsibilities.

3. Rondo and scherzo!

In classical music, the rondo, often used in the third movement, is based on an alternation between a recurring part (the refrain) and several contrasting parts (the verses). If we haven’t just described exactly how the Habs’ “big little Mozart” turned out from the moment he was permanently paired with Suzuki and Caufield on the first line on December 4, I don’t know what we’ve done!

Game after game, Slafkovsky’s refrain was transposed by a complete game, a super-constant effort, a presence on the ice unlike any we’ve seen in Montreal in the last quarter-century. Like a kind of “Kovalev in training”… who would show up every night!

A young Kovalev – reminiscent of a young Jagr – with a renewed taste for “fun” and “banter”, rediscovering his catchy scherzo!

Of course, this beautiful refrain, this beautiful constancy in this movement, was accompanied by a few quieter moments. But these only served to better prepare us for the next bursts of energy, to better make us appreciate the contrasts with the exuberant verses to come. In fact, during this movement, which increased in intensity from December 16 onwards, Slafkovsky never went more than four games without registering on the scoreboard.

4. A fast, fortissimo finish!

After a slight three-game lull at the end of the3rd movement, which ended on March 7 in Carolina – a third consecutive scoreless match during which he accumulated a -6 record – the young virtuoso began the final part of his first major work.

Since March 9, Slaf has recorded no fewer than 17 points in 15 games, while maintaining a positive +1 differential. He also enjoyed an irresistible nine-game point streak. Then, marking the start of the “grand finale”, he struck a resounding cymbal last Tuesday with his first career hat trick against the stunned Flyers.

But even when he’s not on the scoreboard, as he was on Thursday night against the Islanders, Slafkovsky, repeating his refrain with an increasingly recurring theme, is doing things that contribute directly to his team’s goals, like standing up authoritatively in front of the opposing net.

You’d have to go back to John Leclair in the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings to see this kind of imposing, if not indelible, presence in front of the enemy’s net.

A team cannot aspire to great honors without a willing soldier capable of playing that role on a regular basis. When the time comes, Slafkovsky’s quality will pay off in spades.

All that remains are the final rolls of the timpani, the last agonizing chords of the strings and the powerful final detonations of the brass to close this first great symphony by Slafkovsky, which took us through a fine range of emotions.

I don’t know whether he’ll go on to write nine, twelve or fifteen, but since the 20-year-old composer’s career is only just beginning, let’s bet that – as with Beethoven – his finest works are yet to come.

And that’s music to many people’s ears.


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