I’ll be the first one to admit it: I am a spoiled hockey fan. I’ve been to the Patrick Roy retirement ceremony in Montreal. Ditto the Joe Sakic one in Denver. During the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I was at game 7 to watch the 8th seeded Habs shock the top dog B’s 2-0. I’ll never forget rocking the CH jersey in the top rafters of the
Boston TD Garden, being called a frog by the drunk locals and loving every minute of it. When the Canadiens became the first team to score 10,000 goals at home, I was there. During Mario Lemieux’s comeback tour in the 2000/01 season, I was there when he got stoned by Martin Broduer on a breakaway in Jersey. Seeing him give Marty a pat on the back and a smile during the timeout is still the classiest thing I’ve ever seen. Mark Messier Bobble Head night at the Garden? Yup, caught that one too. Now, I’m not trying to boast about all the things I’ve seen. I’m just trying to put into context the kind of competition a regular season match-up between the Habs and the Devils would have in the argument for best game I’ve ever attended. And yet, on Saturday, the 2nd of April, that argument was over.
Saturday started like any other Saturday. Wake up around noon, hang out with Margot Kidder for a bit and get my day going. The only difference about today is the trip to Jersey, to catch a late, late season game between the playoff bound Montreal Canadiens and the hapless New Jersey Devils. I’m not expecting much from either team to be honest. The Devils are mired in one of their worst seasons in the past few decades. The Habs are playing so-so hockey, and with a playoff spot all but assured, this could be one of those back-up goalie vs back-up goalie nights. Either way, I’m rocking the Montreal jersey shirt (#20 Zednik, circa 2003.) Now, I’m not a Montreal fan. I’m first and foremost a Colorado Avalanche supporter. You’d be hard pressed to find a more faithful devotee of the Avs this side of the Mississippi. But the Habs have somewhat become my “other” team. I’m not going to go around tooting my horn
when if they win the Cup, but I support them when I can. Most of this has to do with the fact that I don’t live anywhere near Denver. Up until last year, I’d never been to a game in which my team was the home team. That includes baseball as well. I’m not sure a lot of people really understand what that’s like, to always be the outcast at the stadium. But when my Dad, siblings and I head to Montreal once-a-year for a pair of games, something we’ve done since ’03, it’s my one chance to be part of the home crowd. When I stand up and cheer for goals and hits, I’m not treated to the usual “Sit the fuck down, asshole” I hear when I see the Fish or Avs play the local teams in the NYC area. (I’ll be honest, I fucking love that shit. Nothing makes me happier than applauding my team as the locals boo me. Suck it Mets fans.)
This year was different, however. Money’s tight around my house, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people. For the first time in 8 years, we didn’t go to Montreal to catch a pair of games on Super Bowl weekend (For those keeping score at home, during the lockout of ’05 we still went to Montreal to watch a charity game, where we saw some of the greats like Lafluer and Dionne play shinny for fun. RE: Spoiled hockey fan.) Yeah, I caught my first Super Bowl in almost a decade this year. I could hardly contain my excitement. So for my Dad, this was his only time to catch the Habs in person. Mom, knew that, and hooked us up with tickets four rows off the ice for my Dad’s birthday. There we were in the corner, where we would get to watch the Habs pepper red-Ferrari Marty with shots for two periods. Real quick: There are two places one should watch a hockey game – right up against the glass or up in the rafters. That’s it. Anywhere else and your just not seeing the game right.
For the first time in ages, we got to a hockey game early. As we headed to the seats, me and my Dad made comments about how many Habs fans we were seeing in the concourse. Thinking nothing of it, we grabbed a couple of beers (not for my little sister of course. She snuck in a water bottle filled with vodka) and waited for the teams to come out to warm up. That’s when you could first start hearing the noise. Up in the rafters, there must have been at least a thousand of them. Flags, signs, horns, noise makers; the sound was deafening. They started with the now routine Montreal chant, “Ole Ole” (No, I don’t understand why a French fan base uses a Spanish chant. I blame soccer.) “Go habs Go” was next. Players names followed. A quick glance around the arena and I realized why the sound was so loud. They were everywhere, not just the cheap seats. The sea of red I had associated with the jersey of the Devils had actually been a sea of Rouge. The one freaky thing about all this is that they weren’t New Jersey Canadien fans. They weren’t from New York, or Connecticut either. These people were from Montreal. They made the trip (around 7 hours) all the way down to watch their team play a regular season game against a shitty team. Boston is closer. So is Toronto. So is Buffalo. Regardless, here they were. (If your asking how I knew they were actually Canadians, then you’ve never been North of the border. They have… a look all their own. Like they are perpetually stuck in the 80’s.) Said Broduer (a Montreal native) after the game, “That’s impressive, that’s all I can say. Better than the Rangers [fans] when they come here. Yeah, it was impressive. I know the Montreal Canadiens fans are diehard, but to show up in the numbers that they did and how much noise they made, it was weird. It was definitely not something I was expecting. I knew there were a lot of people coming, but not half the crowd.” (via)
Puck drops and the tension is palpable. Yeah, there’s lots of Habs fans here. But what if the Devils come out spirited? How would the fans react? How would the Canadiens react? That questions was answered early when Tedenby, a Devils player, was awarded a penalty shot. He faked out Price, but couldn’t beat the post. That was all the fans needed. After that, the Devils never had a chance. This isn’t a recap, so we’ll cut to the end. A pair of goals by
Stan Matthieu Darche. Carey Price playing like he had brass balls, sometimes standing a whole foot out of the crease to stop shots. Late in the third it’s 3-0 Habs, and the chant to end all chants starts. First from the rafters, the “Na na na na’s” slowly start to make their way down. Pretty soon the entire arena is in unison, “Hey hey hey, Good bye.” That’s a staple chant of the Montreal hey-day of the 70’s. That’s a chant with history. The horn sounds and the arena empties, but the thing is, it doesn’t. Out on the concourse, people trying to take the escalator down to the street were going to have to get around about 400 fans blocking it, chanting nonsensically. Men and women. Old and young. It was like a class reunion, spread over generations. Down on the streets, you’d have thought the Habs just won the Cup. This was a regular season game, an almost meaningless one at that, and yet there were parades forming on the streets of Newark. I looked at my Dad’s face and the smile he had couldn’t be matched. 50 years young, it’s like the man was on Catherine Street once again.
I guess the point of this is you should take in every game you attend and enjoy the utmost out of it. Every game matters. Yes, it’s rhetoric we hear from coaches and players spread out over every sport, but for a fan it’s different. For season ticket holders, this was game number 39 on the season. For some, like my dad, this was game number 1. Point being, every game has the potential to be special. Life is short, and it’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit. Sometimes it’s just nice to get to the arena or the ballpark, grab a couple brews and enjoy the show. You never know, that unimportant regular season game may just turn into the best game you ever attended. I know this one did.