Ultimately what sucked me in was getting to spend time watching the Habs with my dad on Saturday nights. Sharing in his passion and developing one of my own through him.
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.
Growing up in Toronto as a Habs fan is never easy.
When approached as to why, the basic assumption is that I was a front runner. It was an understandable viewpoint up until Rejean Houle destroyed the franchise in the mid-90s, but it wasn't accurate.
I missed the entire 1976-79 Championship run. Not one memory. This might be hard to understand in the current information age, but the environment in 1979 was much different than it is today. Kevin alluded to the difficulty getting Canadiens games on TV in the seventies and eighties. When you take into account that the only access to the dynasty were Saturday nights and the puck didn't drop until 8:05 at night, a six year old with responsible parents in Toronto wasn't going to see much Guy Lafleur.
In 1979 you couldn't go to the local SportChek and purchase a Guy Lafleur jersey, baseball hat, hoodies, etc. My father had access to whatever Eaton's had in stock. It was usually a crappy jersey with a felt crest.
So his attempt at brainwash was very reliant on the Canadiens success and weaving stories about 22 Stanley Cups. His first attempt was a trip to Maple Leaf Gardens for an exhibition game. The Leafs were a team that had upset the Islanders and made the Cup semis. The Habs lost a wide open affair 7-6 behind the stellar Bunny Larocque. I left the arena still on board because of Guy Lafleur, but was still vulnerable to be sucked into Leaf Nation.
Fortunately for my dad, the ace in his pocket was Harold Ballard. As Ballard stripped Sittler of his captaincy and traded his best friend, the Canadiens were attempting to win their fifth Cup in a row.
Over the next four seasons as my bedtimes got later I was exposed to a team that would distance itself from the Leafs on the ice with dominant regular seasons. Montreal finished with 107, 103, 109 and 98 points while the Leafs began a futile decade in which they routinely made the playoffs with less than 60 points.
I had become attached to an aging dynasty with mediocre goaltenders. Dennis Herron, Richard Sevigny and Rick Wamsley were my heroes. I was also attached to a team who choked in the first round against the North Stars, Oilers, Nordiques and Sabres. I didn't witness the Canadiens win a playoff series until Steve Penney upset the Bruins in 1984 and the Habs came two games away from another miracle Finals appearance.
Some of these things helped, but ultimately what sucked me in was getting to spend time watching the Habs with my dad on Saturday nights. Sharing in his passion and developing one of my own through him. As a child of divorce it was a great way to bond through phone conversations discussing prospects, goaltending, slumps and winning streaks.
Playoff drives with me making the journey to his apartment to take in as many playoff games as possible. The 1993 run in which we got to enjoy 10 OT victories, was an exhilarating ride unlikely to be matched in my lifetime.
These moments have come to define my fandom and I have begun the same process with my son.
The Habs don't win as much anymore, but my job is easier. My son has witnessed Carey Price win an MVP in the AHL and the World Juniors. He has 6-7 jerseys, hats, hoodies. He has access to every game through RDS and the Rogers Super Sports Pack. Youtube and the NHL Network have allowed him to see full games of Patrick Roy in his prime. He has been to the Bell Center three times and seen Galchenyuk in action. He wears 29 in honour of Ken Dryden and was a Reebok devotee until Price switched to CCM this year.
I don't have the same passion for the result as I used to. Less highs and lows. More analytical and rational than the ball of fury and anger that I used to be. The passion of these personal relationships link me to the CH now. These shared memories mean more to me than the day to day results ever will.
Although one more Stanley Cup run couldn't hurt.