After being traded away from the Canadiens during their disastrous 2011-12 season, Jaroslav Spacek called the situation in Montreal a "big mess" and said he was "pretty happy to be gone from there, from all the circus."
Not long after, the Habs fired general manager Pierre Gauthier and hired Marc Bergevin to reshape the team and lead them back to the playoffs. With Michel Therrien behind the bench, that's where they are for a second straight year, locked in a second-round battle against the Boston Bruins.
Spacek, now an assistant coach for the Czech Republic, is paying attention and has mixed emotions about watching his former team grow into a winner again.
"I was there when it didn't really go well," Spacek said Saturday at the world hockey championships. "And obviously with the new coaches, new management, I think it's lots of positive things. And maybe a little different system, different coach and stuff like that. They actually change lots of players from when I was there.
"I'm kind of a little sad about it because Montreal is probably one of the best cities to play hockey, and my career there wasn't really the best."
Spacek did play in stretches during the Habs' 2010 run to the Eastern Conference final and in all seven games of their 2011 first-round loss to the Bruins. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes midway through 2011-12, which Montreal finished with the third-fewest points in the NHL.
During his time in Montreal, Spacek didn't get to play in front of this dominant Carey Price, who showed during the Sochi Olympics and these playoffs that he's capable of stealing games and carrying his team.
"That's the thing, when I was there three years ago or two years ago, I think Carey start to develop and he start to build his career," Spacek said. "The world (junior) championship, even the Olympics they help him a lot to move forward. He kind of settle down with his fiancee and move forward in his career. That's something I don't want to say we were missing at that time, but he was still young guy and he was learning a lot."
Price's 2.32 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this regular season were career-best marks.
Spacek roots for the Habs in part because he has a couple of friends on the team: ex-teammate Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek. Even without them he'd be keeping track of hockey in North America.
"I'm always watching the NHL," the 40-year-old former defenceman said. "It's kind of tough with the time change now, but I'm still watching the games, still watching the highlights and stuff like that and reading. Still I'm hockey player, right? So I want to be in the game and know what's going on."
Spacek is keeping himself busy now in coaching. He's one of two assistants to Vladimir Ruzicka at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, where the Czech Republic will play Team Canada on Monday.
Now 18 months into the coaching part of his career, Spacek is no longer spending two or three hours at the rink and leaving like he did as a player. Being behind the bench means more preparation and a different perspective on what the job entails.
"I always was thinking the coaches' job is kind of easy," he said. "But now when I see the other side, and especially you want to be effective, move teams in some direction, it's a lot of hours and I just respect those guys a lot more now than I probably used to."