The thought of putting this all on paper occurred to me just over two months ago, on the night of
March 27th, or should I say the morning of March 28th. The clock showed 5:49am in Tel Aviv, Israel, when I came back to bed for… oh, an estimated 15 minutes of sleep until my one and only baby boy was due to wake up from his deep night sleep. But I was all smiles and calm. Not a bad thought, no anger, or frustration following a sleepless night.
A night of true heaven had just 30 minutes earlier, a split second after Brendan Gallagher scored his shootout winner to give the Montreal Canadiens a 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins, in a real thriller. 65+ great minutes of plain emotional and sporting intercourse (with my PC)… A hard fought hockey game, with comebacks, drawbacks and millions of thoughts going back and forth through my mind all through the night – ” What am I doing here? Why am I up at 4:30am still watching after my team just let in 4 straight goals and lose to the Bruins again? What’s in this for me? Where is the love? I should go to sleep… But wait, should I keep the headphones on and listen to Martin McGuire and Dany Dube for the last 8 minutes down 5-3? No… I’ll put my head down and get the only hour rest I’d get this night…Did my phone just vibrate with an app notification that they’ve just made it 5-4…? Was that another notification announcing a powerplay with less than 2 minutes to play? Nah, it’s not gonna happen, it’s not worth getting up again to the PC, and since it’s so late (or early) anyway, I’ll just keep listening to the last minute or so and catch the after game until the boy gets up… Markov!!! Yes! 5-5 with 8 ticks left! OK nothing’s gonna stop me now, back to the PC!” Gallagher did the rest…
This is to some extent short summary of my life as a Habs’ fan across the ocean, by the Mediterranean Sea. This is 20 years after I left Montreal and came back with my parents to live in Israel, just 30km north of Tel Aviv. I have 4 year baggage in Montreal, from 1989 to 1993, living there with my parents they wanted to try their luck in the restaurant business in Canada, after a lot of success in Israel. Professionally all went well for them, but turning 17 and ahead of my army duty coming up, I wanted to come back home and my parents were supportive enough to go with it.
What I came back with was quite a love story with something I had never experienced before and am still living today. The kind of love story that simply doesn’t let you go and that has a flame literally lighting up your heart and soul, since and forever I guess. The Montreal Canadiens were and are that flame.
I’m always intrigued by the roots of what brought me to the level of faith and admiration to the Montreal Canadiens phenomenon.
I arrived to Montreal in July of 1989, and as a 12 year old in a new country speaking 2 new languages, I naturally wanted
a bond with something. So in addition to the good friends I’ve made through the years, some with whom I’m still in touch to this day, I guess I was after a bond to something local, something from with ‘Montreal blood’ all over it, that would make me feel that I belonged. Very quickly surrounded by hockey followers in the family and among friends, I was naturally exposed to it too and it honestly felt like starting to suddenly believe and live for something. Almost 2 decades after my arrival to Montreal, I read Professor Olivier Bauer’s masterpiece ‘La Religion du Canadien de Montreal’ (Fides, 2009) and understood it all – I was indeed going through a religious process and turning into a Canadiennist with time…
Funny. Jewish no more! But Canadiennist!
It didn’t take me too long to start switching to Canadienism, growing to practically eat, drink, sleep and talk Montreal Canadiens; thinking back, to some extent perhaps my true baptism was the 1993 Stanley Cup, which happened just 3 months before I eventually left Montreal…
The first experience with the Canadiens was magical. Something in the way this team, this logo, the history, this hockey madness was in the air of this city made me bond with it. The city, the media coverage, the people all around talking about it simply made it oxygen you simply had to inhale. And boy, did I ever… I literally drowned in that oxygen.
I think I felt it most as I was watching my first Saturday night game; my first ‘Hockey Night in Canada’, or ‘La soiree du Hockey’. There was something in the air since the afternoon hours; this ‘wait’, like a ceremony which culminates with the game. And then the game; even through the TV, I could simply feel it. With my uncle sitting right next to me, my mentor to this hockey mad city, I watched as the players went on this ice, and although snow or ice were the last things to find in Israel, it was like nothing was strange to me. I specifically remember the national anthem moment; the camera, moving from player to player, names and faces I’d never seen before – Roy, Svoboda, Chelios, Carbonneau, McPhee, Skrudland… The Stanley Cup banners, 23 of them, year after year. The retired jerseys of legends I never had the luck to see, hanging there like demons over watching their empire; details with no history or meaning to me at the time, which so quickly almost became everything to me.
At the end, there was the game too. The intensity, the suspense, the joy, the passion. Everything simply made sense to me. It was like the missing part of this move to a new country, a new people – was found. As a 12 year old boy, I got sucked into this, getting hungrier and hungrier for information, for the history, the numbers. Trying to get a feel of the tradition I was suddenly learning to experience and drawing so much joy from it. Reading and hearing stories about the Rocket, Jean Beliveau, Dreyden, Lafleur, Cournoyer and many, many others.
Four years went by like that; happiness relived everyday. And those unknown faces I saw on that first Saturday night became a big part of my life; the names and faces changed, but not the bond with them. Games after games, heart breaking losses, huge comebacks, playoffs thrillers, playoff disasters and of course one Stanley Cup.
When I realize I’m 35 now and this passion, these small yet so big details are all still there, I’m truly astonished, being so far away yet still feeling so close.
In 1994, the year after I had left Montreal, following the team was tough, even painful. The grains of information came to me via letters that arrived 2 weeks late from friends, occasional CNN sports shows, international newspapers covering major sports with weekly results. Nothing more.
Tough times for a diehard fan; far from the eye far from the heart they say. That’s how it was for me. Being honest, looking at those years after the last Stanley Cup conquest in 1993, there were milestone moments I re-lived once internet was here, that I’m happy I didn’t experience. The 24th Stanley Cup winning team disappearing over the years, turning the team from contenders to just another team out of the playoffs; Patrick Roy’s grand exit from Montreal; the departure from the Forum, the multiple coaching and front office changes. A part of me is truly happy I lived those moments from afar, but I think the distance from ‘living the team’ these years, is the reason I feel so close to it now.
Into the 21st century, with internet on the rise and multi-channel international TV being more and more available, I slowly ‘got back to business’. I can remember specific moments over the years that built my eventual comeback to normality which I live today; an ESPN broadcast of the Canadiens-Boston game 6 during the 2001-02 playoffs with an unforgettable Jose Theodore in net, the stories surrounding the 2004-05 lockout, and mostly – the naming of my childhood hero, Guy Carbonneau as the head coach of the team in 2006. Carbonneau wasn’t your typical idol as a young fan. But something about his modesty, the way he talked, the quiet leadership, the ‘behind the scenes’ character made him – for me – the face of this franchise. I never really understood why he left the club, but his return hinted I should ‘head back’ home too, and I did.
As time went by since his first season, I spent more and more time reading about the team, catching up on my lost years, and also experiencing more LIVE game coverage through the internet and new international sports channels available in Israel. And from occasional games here and there, I find myself today getting up at least twice a week at 2:00am to watch games, and continuing to
read post-game reports and not letting go of the earphones or the PC until the sun is up and I need to go out and get into my real life… And even then, most mornings start with reading game
coverage, analysis and interviews, looking ahead to the next game. Thank
goodness for the internet; Sportscentre, Sports 30, L’Antichambre, Webradio, podcasts…
But as ice is nowhere to be found in Israel, so are true hockey fans to share this passion with; discuss the games, analyze the teams’ performance and just plain hockey talk. You can’t really explain to someone who hasn’t really lived hockey in Montreal what it hockey for Montreal. The wife, the close friends are empathic, but honestly, they don’t really get it…
The offseason is simply dead time honestly, especially after short playoffs or god forbid no playoff at all. The interest is still there, but I can’t really think of a more passionate experience then a long playoffs run. Until that happens again, memories of games like the one 3 months ago is what you live off, at least until training camps get started in September.