I grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. I probably first became a fan because my older brother was a fan. My household in those days was evenly split – my older brother, my sister and I were Habs fans, and my mom and dad and oldest brother were fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The earliest I can recall watching hockey was during the 1968-69 season, when I can vaguely recall watching the Habs play the Saint Louis Blues in the Cup final. I was 7 years old. I remember a few bits and pieces from the next couple of years but my memories are much clearer starting with the 1972-73 season. I vividly recall my sister claiming that “hockey is fixed!” after Chicago beat the Habs 8-7 in game 6 of the finals. (Justice prevailed, though, as the Habs went on to win game 7.)
The seventies were a good time to be a Habs fan, as the team won 6 Cups during that decade. I often wonder whether I would be a different type of Habs fan if I had grown up with a less-successful version of the team or, for that matter, if I had grown up in a different era.
For one thing, my support for the team was much more, I don’t know, undiluted than seems to be the case today. I did not dislike any players on the Canadiens in the seventies. I had my favourites, like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Yvan Cournoyer (still my all-time favourite Hab). But I supported anyone who was on the Montreal Canadiens unreservedly. In fact, the first Canadien that I did not fully support was Claude Lemieux. Even though I was happy he was a Hab and I cheered when he scored the overtime winner to eliminate the Hartford Whalers on the way to the 1986 Stanley Cup, I was vaguely embarrassed by his style of play (especially the “diving”).
Anyway, I don’t know if it’s because hockey is more ubiquitous today (when I was growing up, hockey was only on television on Saturday night – Hockey Night in Canada – and newspaper/television coverage in my hometown of St. John’s, NL was minimal), but today’s fans seem much more cynical. Judging by the fan commentary on such Habs sites as The Gazette’s Hockey Inside/Out, there are as many Habs fans who dislike a given player as like that player. And nobody seems to like everyone on the team.
Of course I recognize that the game itself is different today, with the big money and easy player mobility leaving each team’s roster in a state of constant flux – is there anyone on the Canadiens now who will spend his whole career with the team? Probably not (and, short of a megawatt star like Sidney Crosby, most fans today would happily see any player leave if they thought the team was getting value for the move).
In addition, the dizzying number of stats available to fans today (I never progressed beyond plus/minus, myself…) mean that a statistical case can be made for or against almost any player, or coach for that matter.
But for all the added sophistication of the modern fan, I still feel they lack something that us “old-timers” have. I’m no less a fan than I was when I was a teenager – I still live and die with the team. But I basically still like everyone on it. I like to see each of them do well. I’m sad when they (all too frequently) leave via trade or free-agency, but I’m also happy to see the newcomer arrive and I always wish them well while they wear the bleu-blanc-rouge.
Similarly, I never second-guess the coaching staff. I never assume I know more about coaching than they do. No matter how odd it might look (like Jacques Martin’s line juggling), I always assume there is a “method to their madness.”
All told, I guess I have not changed with the times. But I cannot be cynical about the team I support Sure, I pretend I am, sometimes, to fit in and I may make a snide remark or two on Twitter but, at the end of the day, I still have that (childish?) sense that all members of the team have some elemental “Canadien-ness” conferred upon them when they join the Habs, which elevates them in my eyes. The cynics can keep their cynicism (I guess it works for them), but I can’t share it. I want to see Scott Gomez come back and play well no more or less than I want to see P.K. Subban excel.
So when’s the next game, again?