Love isn't really a choice, it's something that you find or it finds you. Loving the Habs was an inevitability.
This post is part of an ongoing series on Eyes on the Prize wherein the authors will tell you how they came to love the Montreal Canadiens. It is also the beginning of a contest! In order to enter, write your own experience of becoming a fan as a fanpost on EOTP. All those who write a post will be entered into a draw for a Habs t-shirt jersey (shersey) of their choice. The Active Stick encourages you to not choose Rene Bourque. The deadline to enter will be December 1st, so we'll have time to give the winner his or her gift before the holidays.
I have earlier memories of hockey than the one that made me a fan, but they aren't nearly as vivid. Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan I didn't have a hometown NHL team to call my own, although we did have the Warriors.
My dad was an army brat who grew up in Newfoundland, where his parents are both from, Cold Lake, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario. When he was a kid he was a passionate Habs fan, so much so that he was given a black eye at Maple Leaf Gardens on his 14th birthday for cheering too vigorously in a blowout by our lovely Montreal Canadiens. That was 1973 though, and by the time he was on his own in Edmonton, Alberta in the late 70's, this guy named Wayne Gretzky had converted him into an Oilers fan. Our house was an Oilers house, but it wasn't overwhelming.
I'm not exactly sure exactly how old I was when it happened, but I know it was one of the final few games of the season. I had misbehaved in some way or other and my parents sent me to their room to calm down. It wasn't really a punishment because of the 13" TV they had in there, and there was a hockey game to tune into.
The game was between the Hartford Whalers and the Montreal Canadiens, and there was something special about those jerseys with the CH on them. There's something about those jerseys that speaks to you. But it was more than the jerseys that made this team special. My eyes were drawn over and over again to the Montreal net. Our goalie was so much better than theirs. He covered the bottom half of the net more efficiently, his glove was quicker, he could drop to his knees and recover in the blink of an eye. He was fast, agile, young, and he lived and breathed competitive spirit. He was a winner and you could see it in his eyes. The eyes behind the mask drew me in, they were penetrating, unflinching. The details of the mask around them was burned into my mind, I knew this was it.
I wanted to be like Roy more than anything else in the world. I didn't want to be a goalie, I wanted to be him. I wanted his Koho pads and his stick and his mask. As I began rabidly collecting hockey cards, anything in the store that was Habs or Roy related I had to have.
I still have that poster, puck, and jersey
A few years later I experienced my first Stanley Cup for my team. It was Patrick's 2nd and remains the last cup the Habs have won, their 24th. I don't vividly remember much of the playoffs, but I remember the swell of confidence at the expiration of regulation time. Overtime meant a guaranteed win for this club, for this goalie. And he knew it too, he made no effort to hide his cockiness.
That euphoria didn't last long though. As commenter JD_ noted yesterday, sports fanaticism is very much like religion. Not logical, and largely based on where you grew up (although not for me). And in 1995 I received my first test of faith. Back then I didn't read the news and hockey coverage wasn't everywhere like it is now, so I remember my dad jostling me awake to inform me that Patrick Roy had been traded to the Colorado Avalanche. I don't remember if I cried, but I'm sure I did.
That same year Roy won another cup with his new team, and a part of my hockey heart went with him. It was hard not to stray as Rejean Houle and Ronald Corey destroyed the Habs from the inside out while Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy lead the Avalanche to the playoffs every year of my youth, always a contender.
When my family moved to Alberta in 1998, it felt like I was moving further and further away from the Canadiens. In my new room I had just as many posters of Roy in a Colorado jersey as in a Habs jersey. But affairs like that don't last, and when the Canadiens began to turn a corner, with new management and ownership, and a former legend returning in Bob Gainey, my passion was reignited. It was easy to get back into the Habs with a guy like Saku Koivu leading the way.
In 2005 after graduating high school, my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to move to Montreal just in time for the last lockout to end. That same year I saw my first ever Canadiens game at the Bell Centre. On October 18th I sat in row FF of the whites in section 314 to watch my Habs take on the hated Bruins. The Canadiens stormed back twice, down 2-0 after 20 and 3-2 after 40, with Alexander Perezhogin of all people scoring the game winner on Andrew Raycroft to take it 4-3. In true post-lockout style, 5 of the 7 goals were on powerplays.
The atmosphere of the Bell Centre was something I never could have anticipated. I was lucky enough to accidentally be there for the game that the Canadiens honoured the newly relocated Montreal Expos, and the crowd never got silent.
Later I was lucky enough to find seats in the blue section for Patrick Roy's jersey retirement ceremony in 2008, before that season went down the tubes.
There was something found in the Canadiens and in Montreal that's very special to me. It didn't take long in this city to realize I was home.