A City United

Habs flag flies outside West Island College in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec
Habs flag flies outside West Island College in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec

Not everyone is a hockey fan. Not everyone watches every game. And some don’t even care about the team that represents their city.

Montreal is different. Our identity as a sports legend is in our hockey team; the Habs are into their second centennial now, and the team has been the home of legends of the game (Ken Dryden, Maurice Richard, Patrick Roy, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson – to name some of the big names known outside of the city as well as within). When written up in columns or blogs, “Habs” is usually paired with “storied franchise”. This is for good reason – the oldest team in the league, most Stanley Cups won, most successful in so many ways, and our fan base is second to none.

That last bit? It isn’t just because I am part of it; we are truly known throughout the sporting world as the loudest, warmest, and even most critical fanbase of any hockey team in the league. It isn’t easy to be a player on the Habs when not performing to potential! But it is really easy to be a fan and welcome our guys on the ice with throat-burning cheers at the Bell Centre, or watching with friends, or watching in a bar with strangers-as-friends.

We talk about the team’s achievements as though they are our own:

“We really played the way we needed to” – yes, we were all out there on the ice with the players.

We smile and extend our happiness on “mornings after” a big game, and there is an overall “up” feeling when our team is successful. (yes, there is the opposite cause and effect too, but being a total optimist, I will not go *there*)

Montreal unites as a city when the Habs are doing well, and most especially during the post-season excitement. Once the playoffs begin, with every win, as the team gets closer to advancement in the series, flags begin to sprout on cars, houses, businesses, and even outside schools (see the photo above – a local suburban high school on the West Island). People wear their gear, whether it is jerseys, tee-shirts, hats, jackets, or haircuts (see photo – these are being given outside the Bell Centre on home-game nights, as part of the popular and packed Fan Jam which takes place 3 hours before puck drop).

A man gets the Stanley Cup and Habs logo shaved into his head at the Montreal Fan Jam outside the Bell Centre (CBC news)

My personal experiences have been fun; walking into an electronics store on Game Day last week, I met a man wearing his Habs jersey and ball cap. Not knowing him, but not that it mattered, I called, “I hope that’s your lucky gear!” He grinned and gave me a thumbs up. I waved and said, “Go Habs GO!” and we went our separate ways.

This afternoon, I was inside a shop that sells food in bulk. Checking out ahead of me was a gentleman with an older man – perhaps his father. He said to the cashier, “We have a big game tomorrow night – we need comfort food!”

I had to chime in. I said, “oh, Sir, I beg to differ – I think that will end up being celebration food!” They both gave me big grins, and we began to discuss the Habs, our confidence, the situation, the possibilities, and we were bonding right there.

The elder of the two was as animated as anyone half his age. He informed me that we’re playing in Boston tomorrow, so it might be a tougher game. I simply smiled and said, “We did it in Washington, and in Pittsburgh in Game 7 twice…” He said, “Yes, we did!” He also informed me, “I watch the later games on TV too!” I said, “Wow, you’re really dedicated!” He said, “Do you know why I can watch them?” I said, “Tell me?” He said, leaning in with a twinkle in his eyes, “Because I know I can sleep in the next morning!”

He was delightful. We said our “Go Habs Go” as they left – laughing as I mentioned the saying has become Montreal’s “aloha”, all-purpose greeting. And I was smiling the rest of the day.

Yes, anything can happen. But no matter what (and I believe we will do what we need to tomorrow night in Boston!), this city has become united in our support for our team.

It feels wonderful.

So, for anyone who doesn’t care about sports, the game, the scoreboard, the statistics, the history, or the results of playoffs (which is not a bad thing – I used to be among you), I have this to offer: it is undeniable that Montreal is abuzz with the electricity of these playoffs. Enjoy the season, even if you don’t embrace the reason. We all benefit when our Habs are on top.

(And because I cannot leave this out..?)


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