I’m not a huge hockey fan. Well, I suppose that’s not really fair because I follow the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) pretty closely, and there’s nothing I’d rather watch than one of my son’s hockey games, but when it comes to the NHL, I’ve never been one of those rabid Canadian fans who lives and dies by the puck. Growing up, my older brother and all of my friends were hockey fans so I had a peripheral interest, but it didn’t go further than the current Toronto Maple Leafs of the era: Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, and Mike Palmateer to name a few. When we would play road hockey as kids, we would always yell out who we were going to be, but if I was in net and yelled “I’m Palmateer”, that didn’t mean I could tell you his stats, or even pick him out on the street if he walked by without his mask on.
I’m my teens, I gravitated toward the Calgary Flames. My best friend lived next door, and he was a Flames fan, so I think that’s why I came along for the ride. As I got older, proximity dictated that I become a “Leaf Fan”, but other than that amazing run in the 1993 playoffs, it wasn’t that prominent. Although that run in 1993 was fun. I was in my third year of University, and we would gather at my friend Rob’s house where we would watch the games in a big group. I remember that series vs. the St. Louis Blues when Curtis Joseph was the Blues goalie, and he was stopping 50-60-and sometimes 70 shots per game.
The one thing that has been standard in my NHL Fan-dom, is a complete and utter distaste for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m not sure what brought it on, but it has always been there. Maybe it was the fact that Calgary beat Montreal in the 1989 Stanley Cup Final. Maybe it was just that if you grew up liking the Leafs, then Montreal was “the enemy”. Maybe I just don’t like Quebec. I’m not sure what it was, but I always took great pleasure in watching the Habs lose.
Now, that whole preamble about my hockey history is to talk about this year’s NHL playoffs.
To be fair, I don’t devour the hockey playoffs like some people do. A few years ago, at our regular Wednesday night poker game, it was the first game of the NHL playoffs, and a friend insisted we have the opening game on the TV (which wasn’t even on the same floor), so he could keep running upstairs from the poker game to see the score on the TV. At one point near the end of the game, he just sat out his hands (it was a tournament, so he was losing blinds and antes) so he could watch the end of the game. I said to him, “Are you serious? This is the first game of the first round of a three-month playoff season!” But he had to see the game.
Coming into this playoff season, all I kept hearing was how the Eastern Conference Playoffs were eventually going to see another matchup of the league’s two best players: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Well, that became an impossibility after Washington was eliminated in the first round at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. And now, the Canadiens are one game away from knocking off Pittsburgh as well. It’s as if Montreal is single-handedly telling Gary Bettman “You know that Marquee Matchup you wanted? Sorry, we’ll take ‘em both out.” I’m finding it really difficult to root against Montreal on this playoff run, and that tears at the very fabric of my being. It’s a great story.
But then I thought of something.
There’s a great line in a song by Sloan called "Coax Me", where they declare “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans” (which was my mid-90s mantra for the Tragically Hip), and I think that’s what it is that turns me off about Montreal. And not just the arrogant, ‘we-have-more-championships-than-anyone-else’ elitist attitude. I’m a Yankees fan after all, it would be pretty hypocritical to find fault in that.
But when I read that the streets had to be closed down, riot police had to be called in, and tear gas was used after rowdy fans spilled into the streets after a first-round playoff series win…come on. Are you serious? You didn’t win the Stanley Cup, you didn’t even make your Conference Final…all you did was win your opening round series. And don’t give me any garbage about it was the first time ever that an 8-seed beat a 1-seed after trailing 3-1 in a series. I can make up any stat I want to make something sound unbelievable. Did you know that when Mike Cammalleri scored two goals last night against Pittsburgh, it was the first time in NHL History that a player with a name ending in a vowel scored two straight goals at home while playing in a Game 6 vs a team that had a bird as a mascot? First time EVER!
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I heard this morning that Montreal police AGAIN had to close off some streets and send riot police out after last night’s Montreal win, which saw the Canadiens tie the series with Pittsburgh 3-3, forcing a Game 7 on Wednesday. So now, riot police are necessary when Montreal just ties the series? Are you kidding me?
Just when I thought they were giving me a reason to cheer for them, they’re giving me equal reasons to cheer against them.