When I started to become a Canadiens fan three years ago, I ignored the criticism I received for liking two teams in the same division. I made it clear that my primary team was, and always would be, the Buffalo Sabres. Most couldn’t comprehend why I began to love the Habs, but I knew that becoming a fan of the Canadiens was a great choice. Now, upon the start of the 2009-2010 season, I find myself utterly unable to stomach watching the squad from Quebec. I want to start at the beginning, and tell you how my discontent has surfaced.
My senior year of high school I entered my 5th year of French education. We studied Quebec and French Canada, much to my pleasure, for in the summer of 2006 I spent 17 days in Jonquiere, QC at a French language immersion program and simply fell in love with the province of Quebec. I reluctantly left Quebec to fly to Toronto and return back to the United States. From then on, I dedicated my French language studies to my experience in Quebec, with intent plans to return there.
Back to senior year- in French class, we watched the film “The Rocket”- about the life and accomplishments of Maurice “the Rocket” Richard and the Montreal Canadiens.
What can I say? I was hooked! I researched the team and its successes, and I immediately was enthralled. I was impressed with the team’s history and I could easily sense a feeling of dignity, almost royalty, stemming from this hockey club. I admired the team’s fanbase, and how passionate they were about this team. Montreal ate, breathed, and slept hockey. Almost immediately after I became an avid Habs fan. Following graduation, I spent a chunk of money buying my first hockey jerseys- a vintage Sabres jersey and a Montreal Canadiens jersey. Months later, I would eventually spend 6 hours sewing the 100 Saison/Match des Etoiles patches on the jersey, fighting through mistakes and pricked fingers. I quite literally put blood, sweat, and tears into that Canadiens jersey. Yes, I was an American Canadiens fan.
My freshman year of college, I proudly wore those colors around campus, especially when Montreal squared off against the hometown Penguins. I was stunned by the firing of Guy Carbonneau. When GM Gainey took over, I cheered for Montreal so hard after my Sabres failed to make the postseason, and instead watched the Canadiens be easily swept aside by Boston. I was crushed in the defeat, and I celebrated the re-sale of the Canadiens back to the Molson family.
And then, this past summer, I looked on in utter horror as my Canadiens were torn apart, piece by piece and spread throughout the NHL. The players that I had grown to admire and be a fan of, such as Kovalev, Komisarek, and Higgins were all gone. In their stead came players like Gionta, Camallieri, and Buffalo’s Jaroslav Spacek.
When this new season came around, I expected the same Canadiens hockey that I had watched the previous year. Good, classy hockey from the NHL’s most respected and elite franchise. Instead, I witnessed a scrappier, dirtier, and I will say “goonier”, type of hockey. I was, and still am, absolutely appalled. These were not the Canadiens I fell in love with. Dirty, unneeded penalties against the Maple Leafs, stupid fights being started, and cocky/arrogant goal celebrations all stemmed from this “new-look” Habs team. Why, Bob Gainey, why?
And then, October 3rd came. Opening night for my Buffalo Sabres, against the Montreal Canadiens. I watched cautiously, knowing that I actually wanted the Canadiens to lose. But what I saw that night changed my perception of Montreal. Watching the Habs do battle with the Sabres in their new, more physical and goon-ish style of play was the final nail in my Canadiens coffin.
I was disgusted. And truthfully, I still am. I want my old Habs back. The ones that played with a dignified air, that I perceived as classy. As far as I am concerned, these new Canadiens cannot measure up to the squad from last year. Last year, our players had heart. They played with emotion, and wanted nothing more than to win it for the fans. They intended on coming back with a vengeance. Instead, they were shown the door, and bought out by cheap, physical talent.
As I write this, I look at my Canadiens jersey just hanging in my closet, next to my Sagueneens de Chicoutimi [QMJHL] jersey. I haven’t touched it since the Canadiens/Sabres game. I refuse to wear it, along with my two Canadiens t-shirts and winter hat.
I, in no way, want to bash the Canadiens organization, although I think that I have just done what I wanted to avoid. Deep down, I still may love this team, but I’m writing this to just express my utter disappointment in a beloved team. I realize that grit and physicality are parts of hockey, but it is possible to possess those characteristics and still keep your reputation intact.
And as far as I am concerned, the Montreal Canadiens have to win me back as a fan.
About the Author: Currently a college sophomore in Erie, Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York and a passionate sports fan- raised on Sabres hockey, Bills football, and Yankees baseball. Studying to be a high-school history teacher, where he plans on wearing a hockey jersey every casual Friday.