Growing up in Southern Ontario and averse to the losing way of the Leafs, the Bulldogs were a welcome respite.
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.
Living in the hockey hotbed that is Southern Ontario, it would be easy to assume that I am one of the millions of members of "Leafs Nation". To me, that's insulting. I refuse to be a follower of the disappointment that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. So even from a young age, I was forced to look elsewhere for a team that I could truly feel a connection to. That team was the Hamilton Bulldogs, and by extension, the Montreal Canadiens.
My Canadiens fandom didn't start by watching greats like Patrick Roy, Rocket Richard, Guy Lafleur, or any big name stars for that matter (at least at the time). My love for the Canadiens began by watching young up and comers work their way through the ranks and eventually get their time with the Canadiens. Players like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Michael Ryder, Chris Higgins, Carey Price, as well as a multitude of other current Habs.
It all started in the early 2000's. My dad purchased Bulldogs season tickets every season during the decade, up until the year after the Calder Cup championship win in 2006-2007. I saw some great hockey over those years, to say the least. I was present for the Bulldogs 15-1 win over the Cleveland Barons in 2002. I was there for the longest game in AHL history (at the time) which went until 1:06 in the morning with Michael Ryder scoring the GWG in the 4th OT, winning Game 2 of the 2003 Calder Cup Finals 2-1.
I was also there for the not so great moments. I was there when Alexander Perezhogin two handed Garrett Stafford in the face and made him convulse on the ice, and I was also in attendance for what I thought might be the last Bulldogs season in the early 2000's, where the Bulldogs were running a "Stay Dogs Stay" campaign to help keep the team in Hamilton.
Now that I've grown up and am financially stable, I try to get to as many Habs games as I can. My best memory at the Bell Centre is definitely Saku's return on January 22nd, 2011. I had first row seats right behind the bench, which gave me plenty of opportunities to snap pictures like the one at the top. It was a truly memorable night, one that I'm glad to say I was a part of.
To me, there is no better arena to watch a game in than the Bell Centre. All the history, the atmosphere, the intensity of every game, all make it truly special. Being there to experience the passion of the fans, who are all your best friend when you visit the Bell Centre, is an experience like none other. It's something that is exclusive to the Montreal Canadiens, and is why I became a fan, and will remain one for the rest of my life.