If you think the average Canadian is nuts about hockey, Montrealers go absolutely psychotic at the mere thought of hockey season. Sure, there are die-hard fans in every NHL city but my hometown’s population has got to take the cake for hockey fixation. Everyday Montrealers’ children are being named Boom Boom Geoffrion, Serge Sevard, Rocket Richard, Patrick Roy, and Guy Lafleur, and those are just the girls’ names!
I have a theory about what causes this fervent loyalty to a team, even among people like myself who wouldn’t know this year’s star forward if he came up and cross checked them right into the boards. Montreal life and culture are fertile media in which to grow hockey fans. Let’s examine some of the characteristics of this fine city’s hockey-promoting influences and some other fun facts.
- Before The Canadiens adopted Youppi in 2004, the team’s official mascots were real live kids that would skate around with the team during warm-ups and intermissions. In the U.S. children are told that when they grow up they can become President. In Montreal kids aspire to be a Canadien.
- “Hoser”, a Canadian word meaning “loser”, had its origin in hockey. Many hockey rinks were natural-ice outdoor affairs that had to be maintained by the players themselves between games. So how do you determine who will do the maintaining? The losing team has to do it and this involves spraying the ice with water to build it back up after the three periods of wear and tear. So the losing team members are called “hosers”!
- It is alleged that some of The Canadiens’ early playoff victories were at least in part due to The Habs sending copious quantities of alcoholic beverage over to the visiting team’s hotel the night before a big game. It’s not as bad as it seems because The Canadiens are also reputed to have sent sufficient numbers of women along to help the visitors consume the refreshments, assuring the visiting team would be fresh for the next day’s match.
- Growing up in a climate where “frostbite” is not a Dairy Queen treat but a normal part of a child’s routine forces people to turn to hockey arenas for warmth and shelter from the elements.
- The Easter Bunny brings chocolate pucks and Santa’s clothes are the same colours as The Canadiens’ uniforms — didn’t you ever notice that? Well, young Montrealers do and they associate Saint Nick with hat tricks. Oh yeah, and every smart mall Santa wears “a cup”.
- The exact same chemical they use to paint the red center and goal lines on the Bell Centre’s (and, formerly, The Forum’s) skating surface is used in place of Red Dye #25 in every steamé served on the Island of Montreal. [a steamé is a steamed hotdog, a staple in Montreal]
- The brine that goes into making smoked meat [another Montreal delicacy] and dill pickles has the exact same salinity as a goalie’s uniform after playing three periods of regulation time.
- Contrary to popular belief, there has never been a hockey riot in Montreal… those were fan-initiated sidewalk sales.
- A Zamboni would make a wonderful mobile beer cooler, and every Canadiens fan would love to pull up to his friend’s chalet in one so outfitted.
- A true Montrealer mows his lawn following the same figure-eight path that Zambonis make at The Bell Centre.
- A Montrealer would do just about anything to just once be able to use the Stanley Cup as a pichet down at the local tav.
- When The Habs played at the legendary Forum, if the line at the box office window was too long you could always get tickets across the street in “Pigeon Park”. What looked to the uninitiated to be an open-air stock market trading frenzy was actually a bit of Montreal-style scalper salesmanship.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, my team is The Canadiens. Now I’m not saying that your team’s no good, I’m just saying I like mine better and I understand that you probably feel the same way about your team. Let’s face it, if we were to take either of our teams out of the equation, hockey games would be pretty boring, right? So let’s just agree to disagree.
But let’s look at a couple of painless facts, The Canadiens is the NHL’s oldest team and has won more Stanley Cups than anyone else, twenty-four in fact, and were in the finals an additional nine times but didn’t win. The last time they did win was 1993, and I have a funny feeling that this season they’re going to increase their tally of Stanly Cup victories to 25. We’re long overdue!
On a personal note, in ’93 I was living on Atwater Avenue about a kilometer downhill (both geographically and socially) from The Canadiens’ home, The Forum, which was at the corner of St. Catherine Street and Atwater. After the deciding game of the finals was over in L.A., there was a rumbling coming from the street so I looked out the window. There were hundreds of people, some carrying items they picked up at the “We Won The Cup Midnight Sidewalk Sale”, running past my apartment being chased by about a dozen police cars. Montrealers are party animals anyway but when you add a Stanley Cup win to the mix, the celebration reaches critical mass.
If there are two things I hate, it’s rap music and rap musicians’ sampling of old songs from worthwhile genres of music. But, as usual, there is an exception that proves the rule. The song is called “Feels Like ’93” by Annakin Slayd and is an unofficial Canadiens anthem. The song sampled is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ “.
The intro is in French, but the song is in English. For the benefit of those of you who may not speak French, or cannot decipher the Quebec French accent, here’s a translation of the intro.
“On that evening in 1944, Montreal defeated Detroit 9 to 1. Maurice Richard scored 8 points — 5 goals and 3 assists. A legend is born.”
Enjoy the video!
And here it is in French, with subtitles so you can sing along.
See you at the playoffs. Go Habs Go!