Monday, September 22, 2008


No matter how old you are, if you’re their biggest fan or if they broke your heart one (or many) playoff year(s), when you think about the Montreal Canadiens you can’t help but be in awe of all accomplishments this one franchise has amassed over the last 100 years. Thirty-one trips to the Stanley Cup Finals and skating away with twenty-four championships is a feat worthy of the title “The Greatest Team In All Of Sports”.

Over the years we, as hockey fans, have been treated to viewing some of the greatest players ever to play the game don the uniform that signifies a true champion. I’d be willing to bet that each one of us has some sort of story where the Canadiens have made a significant impression in our memories weather it be good or bad. Even the most diehard Bruins and Leafs fans have to admit that somewhere deep down inside they have the up-most respect for the amount of talent the Habs have iced throughout the years (even if they get that uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomachs thinking about it).

As for myself, some of my earliest memories have me sitting in the old Boston Garden watching a 21-year-old Guy Lafleur fly down the wing sidestepping an aging Dallas Smith’s attempt to clean his clock. Watching a 19-year-old Bob Gainey develop his crafty two-way play that would become a staple for years to come. Listening to my father talk about how great Frank Mahovlich and Henri Richard once were, making sure that I understood the importance of their roles on the team even though (at that time) they appeared to have lost a step. Sure, just about everyone in the raucous old building kept their focus on Bobby Orr and itching to see some fisticuffs, including myself, but it was the lessons on the prestige and class that accompanied the Canadiens that made the biggest impression on me. Anytime the Habs came to town it was an event that couldn’t be missed and let me tell you I soaked it all in. Even the few times we didn’t make the trip to the Garden we were glued to the television set not missing a moment of the action.

Lucky for me I was born into a family who happened to be heavyweights in the field of autograph collecting so I was afforded the opportunity to meet, speak and correspond with hundreds of legendary players many of which played for the Canadiens. What has always resonated within me ever since the first time I encountered a member of the Canadiens was the way in which they carried themselves. The grace and class was apparent as they always greeted me in a warm and friendly manner knowing that I was about to ask them to stop and sign for me. They seemed genuine when they smiled at the pictures I had for them to sign, some stopping fellow teammates to take a peek and share a laugh, gracious and interested when I would talk hockey with them never once giving me the impression that they were put off by me approaching them. Some of the friendliest Canadiens players I had the pleasure of meeting were Toe Blake, Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, Dickie Moore and Roggie Vachon. Each one of these men (in their own ways) took the time not only to sign for me, but took an interest in talking with my father and myself sharing stories and handing out playing advise to a young fan. Those are the type of memories that have stuck with me throughout my life and have made an impact on how I teach my own children to carry themselves.

When I was born, the Canadiens were the reigning champs and won again that year for their 16th time, my father made sure I was propped up in front of the set to witness it with him. The year my son was born, (the boy was just a bit over a month old so I fashioned him a cushy little seat in a laundry basket for the games which received a sarcastic “And it Begins” from my wife) together we watched the Canadiens dismantle Gretzky and the Kings for their 24th Stanley Cup.

Even though I have never had a true favorite team (choosing instead to like all teams equally) the Canadiens always seemed to steer my attention their way. For example, when playing pond hockey as a child with my brother and our friends, I remember how we would all pretend to be NHL or WHA stars. As we cleared the snow off of the ice, we would all stake a claim as to who we were going to transform into that day. Was it only coincidence that I happened to pretend to be Guy Lafleur or Steve Shutt when on offence and always Larry Robinson or Serge Savard when playing defense? Maybe, but one thing is for certain I always got funny looks or laughs from the other kids when I picked to be them to play against the kids who picked the likes of Orr, Howe, Hull, Esposito, Sittler, Clarke, etc. Being the youngest of the group, I was relegated to picking last every time so the biggest names were already taken by the time I got to chirp. Somehow it never bothered me and I think it was because I got to pretend to be just who I wanted every time regardless of my lowly status in the group. Besides, all of the ribbing I took only made me play harder when the games started. The whole thing sounds silly I know, but times were simpler then and we all had a wealth of time to kill each winter day. Looking back at it all now I guess it must have seemed a bit strange for a kid growing up in the early 70’s in Massachusetts to have Montreal players instead of Bruins players as heroes, so the teasing I proudly took makes sense. Sort of like realizing that an unconscious installment of the grit, determination, honor and class that the Canadiens carried had been woven into the very fabric of my being at an early age. But if you were to have asked me about it back then, my answer most likely would have been along the line of “Because the Habs are great…duh.”

The Montreal Canadiens will forever be one of the classiest organizations, rich with history and honor. They embody the spirit of hockey, not only in Canada, but also across the globe. Even in the toughest of times there is an air of greatness that surrounds the team and the pride shown through the players let’s you know something special could happen every night. The reach of the Canadiens throughout the league is immense. Just take a look around the league, in the front offices, scouting staffs, both past and present, and you will find the fingerprints of the Canadiens are everywhere.

Although this barely scratches the surface of what the Montreal Canadiens means to me, I hope that you all will enjoy the weekly series here at ATR dedicated to celebrating the franchise’s 100th anniversary this season. As always, please feel free to post comments and share with me you stories and views. Enjoy!

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