Hockey, Sports

The course of true love never did run smooth

Many Montrealers will be able to tell you where they were on June 24, 2021, when the Canadiens scored an overtime goal in game six of the second-to-last round of the playoffs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights—a win that propelled the team to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. 

I was away at a cottage with friends at the time, crowded around an old television watching the game. When Artturi Lehkonen scored that goal, the three of us watching went wild––much like many across the province and even the country. When we managed to settle down, the first thing I did was call my mom, the person from whom I inherited my love for the Habs. She, too, was over the moon and mentioned how she wished her dad was around to see it happen. 

As I was growing up, my mom would tell my grandfather, ahead of each season, that this year might be the one the Habs would surprise us and finally win their 25th Cup. Each time, regardless of how well the team was doing, my grandfather would reply, “No, not this time.” Evidently, he was always right. 

It should have been unsurprising, then, when the team succumbed to the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks later. After all, the boys had put on a lacklustre regular season performance, somehow managing to scrape by only when it counted. With each round, first against their arch-nemeses the Toronto Maple Leafs, then against the Winnipeg Jets, and finally against the Golden Knights, commentators who had been positive that the end of the Habs’ run was imminent were forced to eat their words. Despite the unlikely odds, the city was sent into a period of mourning when the final series came to a close. 

Given the team’s stellar run last year, fans had high expectations going into the 2021-2022 season. But the off-season brought with it the losses of key players like Phillip Danault and Corey Perry––and not to mention injuries that prevented captain Shea Weber and star goaltender Carey Price from returning to the ice in the fall. Now, the team is standing dead last, making it statistically impossible for them to make the playoffs. Between injuries and placements into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, several games in December and January saw the team made up almost entirely of players from the Laval Rocket.

While this fall from grace is rather extreme, it hearkens back to past episodes of Cup hopes that electrified the city. In 2009-2010, Jaroslav Halak’s success briefly called into question whether Price would remain the city’s starter or even remain in Montreal. That season, the team made it further into the playoffs than they had in years, but ultimately failed to make the final, losing their shot at clinching the Cup. 

The recurring pattern begs the question of why Canadiens fans remain so deeply devoted to a team that consistently disappoints. The Habs are said to have the “most intimidating home-ice advantage in the league,” with the Bell Centre known to draw in the loudest, most passionate fans. Beyond the atmosphere of their arena, furnished with energy that travelled across downtown Montreal from the historic Forum in 1996, the team also boasts the most Cups and the most retired numbers in the league. 

Perhaps it’s the way the franchise’s history is so intimately tied to the culture of the city and the province. Or, maybe it’s the lack of another highly popular professional sports team in Montreal, or even the overwhelming number of iconic players to have sported the bleu-blanc-rouge. Regardless, the Canadiens have become a staple in many––arguably, the majority of––Quebecers’ lives, making them a cultural giant rather than merely a sports team. 

With new leadership and the looming possibility of a rebuild, some Habs fans are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a team that is consistently great, not just in random, haphazard bouts. But I’ll always take the lengthy droughts in exchange for even a once-in-a-decade chance to experience the thrill, camaraderie, and joy that comes with times like the playoff run of summer 2021. 

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One Comment

  1. It was great to see a younger generation get a taste of what us baby-boomers grew up with every year. A fever that took over our town each spring and brought in summer with a wave of excitement. Too bad that the biggest focus these days is whether or not the new Gm is Québécois enough for the Mathew Bock-Coté’s and Lise Ravary’s of our journalistic community.

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