Friday, December 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Montreal Canadiens!

Despite the current mess the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in, I will not let it spoil their birthday. Boston can tap dance around them tonight and score 250 goals, and I won't care. I'll be too wasted. No, just kidding. But this team hasn't been easy to cheer for for the last 15 years - and yet I'm still here. Why?

Because I have some great memories of this team, from when I was just a kid, and even now. I was born in 1976 - so I didn't see a lot of Guy Lafleur or Bob Gainey. I do remember Steve Penny. Anyhow, I'll outline my favorite memories of the team, and Toast the Team with the Most NHL Championships.

French TV, English Radio
My first memory of watching Canadiens games was hanging out in the basement where the TV was, and my dad turning on the game. (We lived in Ottawa). The nights where we could only get the game in french, my dad would get his AM radio and sit there adjusting the rabbit ears to pick up the game in english. The ads on TV would be french car commercials, but I'd be listening to some local bum selling carpets. Surprisingly, the game was in sync!

I used to drive my dad nuts by constantly asking who had the puck and where it went. "Who has the puck now, dad? Who has the puck now, dad?" He eventually got fed up and told me to watch the players, not the little black spec that would disappear behind the boards all the time. Then I shut up.

Why Doesn't Everyone Like The Canadiens?
Well, I think everyone kinda did. But most kids my age were all about Gretzky and the Oilers. Trading hockey cards and comparing stats. I couldn't understand why every kid wasn't a Canadiens fan. Didn't they know they were the best? Who cares about individual stats... the Canadiens won hockey games. Most if the time.

1986 Stanley Cup
I was 9. I remember watching the Habs getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins - or beating Boston, then losing to some other shmuck team. "Oh well, not this year," my dad would say. But in 1986, we went all the way to the finals! We won! Patrick Roy was the best! I think Mats Naslund was my favourite player, besides the goalie. And yet still all the kids were talking about Gretzky... What's wrong with these people? I was young and didn't really understand the significance... I honestly thought that it was a fluke Montreal hadn't won in the last few years, and they were just back to normal.

1989 Loss to Calgary
I was 12, and a little wiser in the ways of this NHL thing. Although my favourite Habs player of all time, Larry Robinson, was still on the team, I saw that the Montreal Canadiens were not the dominant force I was lead to believe. Turns out other teams in the NHL wanted to win the Stanley Cup as well. My fondest memory of this finals was a picture in the Ottawa Citizen of Larry Robinson standing over a live chicken wearing a scarf someone had thrown on the ice. I think it was the finals. Anyhow, I had that picture for years. I was not too disappointed when they lost. I thought they played really well, and the Habs would be back in the finals sometime soon. After all, they were in the playoffs every year...

1990 - Larry Goes to the Kings
I remember asking my dad why this happened. It was a rude awakening to the politics of the game. Essentially the Habs organisation didn't want to pay him the same as LA (as I remember) and didn't want to give him the ice-time. So off he went. I was pretty sad; but its not like I ever saw him play in LA - only a couple games before he retired. I, of course, thought the Canadiens should pay him whatever he liked :)

1993 Cup Win
Obviously my strongest memory of the team. I was really busy with after school commitments - it had me getting home really late, and as a result I missed most of the games. I was always delighted when I got home and the game was still on - in over time - Oh, how nice, they waited for me. I'd go get my lucky ball-cap, and sit down to watch. The the Habs would score, and win the game! See? Easy! It sure was exciting. The games I was able to watch in full I had to watch in another room. I couldn't listen to anyone else's comments about the game: couldn't deal with my mom and dad's stress levels, as I had elevated levels of my own :) Desjardins, LeClair, Carbo, Muller, Keen and of course the King in net... It was just a great time to be a Habs fan. They took on that might Gretzky fellow, that everyone seemed to love, and squished him. (I knew he was nothing special compared to the Habs.) They won with hard work, passion, a lot of luck, and a cool confidence and determination. When they lost, its because they were playing lazy. When they won, its because they were playing tough and as a team. Eventually you knew that puck was gonna go in...

I never understood why they gutted the team after this win. Desjardins and LeClair to Philly. Carbo gone, Roy & Keane gone, Muller gone. Some kid named Koivu who was hurt a lot. The game was changing, and the owners were cleaning house. They got cheap. And we never recovered.

Mark Recchi
I loved this guy for the Habs. I would only be able to watch the games in french when I was in central Ontario for University, and all I remember was the announcer saying the name "Recchi" over and over again. He played offence - he was in the corners, he was in front of the net, he was shooting, he was passing to Koivu, he was playing defence, he was blocking shots, he was saving goals, he was serving hotdogs, honestly, this guy did everything. It made the loss of LeClair and Desjardins not sting so much. He was an iron man, never getting hurt and always giving his all. Where he'll fit in my list of all time favourite hockey players I dunno, but he certainly is my favourite active players. It was the first time I was really mad at a hockey trade, when we went him away for Danius Zubrus.

2002 playoffs - in Costa Rica!
I got married in April 2002. Habs hadn't been in the playoffs for a while, but Jose Theodore was on fire. They finally got in, and were playing, who else, the Boston Bruins. And I had my honeymoon in Costa Rica. I was happy to be married, but I was disappointed to miss the games. I figured it would all be over when I got back. There I was in the hotel room in Costa Rica, when flipping through the channels I saw we got ESPN. And they were covering the Habs/Bruins series. I told my wife it was a sign -- and she let me watch every game, never once giving me crap about it. I would freak out that they were winning and beating the no.1 Boston Bruins etc... and she would wake up from her snooze, smile politely, then like a sleeping cat go back to sleep. I had iguanas and monkeys and palm trees outside, an Ocean like bathwater, and I was happiest watching those playoff games. (when not doing honeymoon stuff - I'm not that bloody crazy).

2007/2008 Habs
I had written the team off this year. "Rookies and Russians" I called them - gonna hang out in the basement for a while and get some good draft picks. Carbo as coach was pretty cool, but Julien didn't really deserve the boot he got. Then all of a sudden the Habs were winning. Sourray's point shots were amazing - but he was gone. How could they recover? But they managed to recover from Sourray leaving and find Mark Streit - and Kovalev. All these kids were rockin; Pleks and Kositsyn; scoring goals and winning games. It was the most exciting regular season I have ever remembered. It was littered with come-back victories and short handed goals. The team was playing a system, everyone was on the same page, and the work ethic had them all rockin. It was amazing! The playoffs sucked and knocked me back to earth, of course. I had reserved hopes for the 2008/2009 season. But this season will always hold a special place in my heart.

(It also feeds the bitterness I have now, when the team continues to under-perform. I know you guys are better than this! I have F$#@king seen it!! Anyhow.)

So that's it. If you read this far, I thank you for sharing my memories with me.

And a toast to The Montreal Canadiens. For a while at least, and at times even now, you remind me what it takes, and what it feels like, to be a Champion. Happy 100th.


  1. great article, on heck of a ceremony. it makes me so proud to be part of this generation to be able to watch this.
    the Canadiens have been great at celebrating their history, but just like Ken Dryden said, it is time for our current squad to build their own.
    All that being said, there is nothing like the Montreal Canadiens; then or now!

    Go Habs!

  2. Born a Habs fan, we never got to see them live. My first time in the Forum was an Old Timers game because my friend's dad had an extra ticket. I saw Lafleur and a bunch others, and the game was dead boring, but I remember being afraid of falling out of my seat and onto the ice because it was so steep in there (we were in the lower bowl).

    For a while the team was pretty lame... I followed them still but when Price was brought in, I was glued to the screen. The first round in the 08 playoffs were great! I remember the Kostitsyns opening the goals and finishing the goals. Unfortunately they all forgot there's more than one round, but it was a great run until then.

    Last year was the first time I got to see the Habs live. I got the Victory Pack (5 games with a chance of 5 more if they win, ended up with 9 games). My first real live hockey game was the first preseason game with the 5-0 victory over the Sens. The atmosphere was a playoff atmosphere even though it was just preseason. I remember some Sens fans late in the 3rd yelling "GO SENS GO" just for fun, and a group of guys a few levels higher replied "FIVE ZERO!". It was so much fun! I got a lot of memories with this team, but my focus is on the present now. My brick in the Centennial Plaza forever expresses my thanks, and I wrote a few numbers from last year's squad (couldn't fit them all on though).

  3. Thanks for sharing! Its interesting to hear how other people are attached to the team.