As far back as I can remember, which is about four years old, there were three things my dad watched on TV: Sherlock Holmes, This Old House, and hockey. Saturday especially,which for any American readers is “Hockey Night in Canada” which meant from about 4pm to 7pm the TV was occupied with my father yelling at the TV.
For anyone that isn’t a hockey fan, this is actually fairly normal behavior (of which I have recently adopted myself) for anyone that has a team they root for. For my dad that team is now, and always has been the Toronto Maple Leafs. See, he was raised in a small area of Ontario so this was natural to him to cheer for players like Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, and the more recent Mats Sundin. One of the biggest things you need to know about Maple Leafs fans is their bitter rivalry with the neighboring team the Montréal Canadiens. The other thing I should mention now is that I’m a Habs (the shorthand for the canadiens) fan through and through.
I never imagined that hockey would be of any importance in my life, I always watched over my dads shoulder wondering why he was so excited about what these guys were doing on the ice. What was icing, why wasn’t he allowed to raise his stick so high, and why wasn’t the knuckle puck** a valid shot? These were all questions I assumed had no real answer, or at least not one I was interested in knowing. And now, at twenty-seven hockey has a safe and unique place in my heart.
I still remember the day I told my dad I was a Habs fan, we were sitting at his apartment watching a TV show that escapes me (likely That 70’s Show or Smallville) and he was telling me a bit about the approaching playoff season. I mentioned to him that after many years of not paying attention, and an extremely short-lived interest in the New Jersey Devils (due mainly to the name and an interest I have in mythical creatures*) I had finally begun regularly watching one of the greatest sports, the national hockey league. The problem was that I wasn’t rooting for his team of the last 60 years, but their biggest rival of all time. My father jokingly clutched his chest, asking how I could do this to him with a laugh. Of all the teams I could have been a fan of, this was the one I settled on. Thankfully he took this in stride, and in laughter that we would now be yelling at opposing teams on the screen.
One other key moment that I never expected to have any impact on me, was team Canada taking on team USA at the winter Olympics. I was working in a department store at the time, selling TV’s and other electronic things. All day long employees and shoppers alike crowded around a tiny radio on my counter top, to listen to the game. Everyone from little old ladies, to teen fans were stopping by to ask the score and shout “Go Canada go!”. I was glued to the radio every moment, every missed shot, good and bad calls from referees, and the moment Canada was announced as the winner. We all went up in a roar of excitement and I knew that hockey was going to be a part of my life.
As for why I chose the Habs for my team, well it comes down to the simple fact that I love Montréal, I love the rich history behind the team. And most of all, Maurice Richard was the greatest player of all time.
* A topic for a future day, my love of cryptids as they’re known is vast and reaches far back into my childhood.
** If you haven’t heard of the knuckle puck, I highly suggest watching The Mighty Ducks movie series