Back when I was 16 (in 2005-06), I boarded a plane from Caracas, my tropical hometown, to Montreal, where my parents and I would hop on a car and drive 2 hours to the small town of Lennoxville, where I would attend boarding school. It was definitely an exciting time, coming to a new country and to a place where people spoke in 2 languages - none of which were spoken where I came from. But apart from the excitement, I could feel the nerves as I would soon be integrating into a new community that I knew nothing about.
Fast forward a few months, and the air was beginning to chill, the temperature was dropping and every morning you could tell that the moisture on the grass had frozen over night only to begin to thaw as the sun rose. That was about the same time that the hockey season was hitting its stride, fresh from the lockout of the previous year. That November, I went on a school trip to Boston, of all places, it was where I saw my first hockey game. I had no idea at the time, that I was stepping into the arena of our most fierce rivals - the TD Garden. I also had no idea that I was about the witness Sidney Crosby kick the Bruins' ass as a rookie phenom. I didn't really get the rules at first, but I do remember being mesmerized by the speed and skill of the sport, and for some reason, I was cheering against the Bruins - that must have been a sign of things to come.
When I got back to school in La Belle Provence, I told my friends who were not part of the trip that we had gone to a hockey game. They were all jealous that I got to see Sid the Kid play in the flesh, but they were glad that I liked the sport. That was when I started joining my housemates and friends in the basement of our boarding residence to watch the Habs - we watched the games on RDS, and I had no idea what the announcers were saying, but I knew that "et le but!" was an expression of ecstasy, and soon I was enthralled by the passion exuded by the fans of the bleu, blanc, rouge. I began to sneak down to the basement during "prep time" to watch games, and read about the Habs online - I was basically studying the Habs on my free time.
The following year is when my allegiance to the team was cemented. I continued to sneak down to watch games, riding the extreme highs of victory and drowning in the woes of defeat. I dreamed that I was having lunch with Guy Carbonneau, we talked about possible line combinations and how we could improve the team, and I dreamed about the Habs scoring in bunches and winning every game. I dreamed about being in game 7 of the cup finals and winning that game. I was living and breathing Habs. That spring, as all Habs fans know, we played against the Leafs for the last playoff spot and lost. I was livid, and I had not felt that kind of sense of dejection and loss, at least not from a sport. That moment, I knew I had fallen in love with the CH.
Growing up, I never followed sports like soccer or baseball, which are huge in Venezuela, I did not understand the passion, the highs and lows, that fans went through, until I became a fan of the Habs. To this day, no other sport and no other team has grabbed a hold of me, the passion I have for the Canadiens is something irrational but visceral. Today, I am a hardcore fan. I may have just been following the team for about 8 years, but I know that I will keep following the team for the rest of my life. Becoming a fan definitely changed my life, loving this team and the sport of hockey helped me integrate into Canadian life, and understand the passion that people have for their teams, and for the sport. But more importantly, I came to understand what it means to be a Habs fan. When people ask me, how come you are a fan of the Habs, why that team? I tell them that it's a question about passion, being from Latin America, passion is a big part of my person, and passion is a big part of being a Canadiens fan. Some people find it funny that a kid from Venezuela fall in love with a team and sport so alien my home culture, but to me, being so passionate about this team and about this sport is fits right in with where I come from.