To Hab and Hab-Not

I don’t wear my Montreal Canadiens’ hockey jersey outside the house. I’m afraid of being attacked in the street by some passive Ottawa bureaucrat who will grab me by the throat and start ripping me up, limb by limb.
Ottawa hockey fans are like that, I’ve come to realize.
Oh… don’t get me wrong. I love the Nation’s Capital. And I’ve always thought that particular genus of fan that parks themselves in the seats of, what’s it called this year ?… the Canadian Tire Centre, a particular placid bunch. I used to go once a year when someone would give me free tickets but I never felt at home in a rink where fans had to be exhorted to make noise by an electronic prompter. And I never could understand a fan who would bring a phone to a hockey game and then spend most of his time ironing out whatever problems he had left behind at work.

I grew up going to watch the Montreal Canadiens at the Forum. To me it was a shrine beyond any cathedral that I’ve since visited in Europe. Even watching the peanut vendors throw their small bags of Mr. Peanut up twenty rows and then being able to catch their customers’ coins with one hand and yelling “Peanuts…get your peanuts. Achetez vos peanuts ici !” left me awestruck.
Better than watching a man leave his crutches behind at Lourdes, oh, you betcha !

So I was caught with my pants down, completely off-guard, by the passion of ‘Sens Army’ this spring. I was no better prepared than the American Navy at Pearl Harbour. Fans on their feet, making spontaneous noise, passionately cheering their team on, praying, eyes closed even, during the last seconds of games, either exhorting their team to put one in the enemy net or else keep it out of their own.

It warmed the cockles of my cold puny heart.

I’d spent most of the season cursing out the Ottawa Senators as a sad-sack organisation, from General Manager Bryan Murray to goalie Craig Anderson. Murray couldn’t make a decent trade even if someone offered him Bobby Orr for Bob Blackburn and Anderson was so injury-prone that he was sidelined a couple of years ago for several weeks after nearly severing his hand while cutting up his chicken dinner. But the Sens didn’t need those two to crank up the excitement level in Ottawa this season. A minor-league goalie who wasn’t even a household name in his own hometown, and who had earlier let in three goals in the first thirty-one seconds of a game in Binghampton, New York, wherever that is, was put in the nets, just because there was no one else.
Cinderella… you better get dressed for the ball.

So an arena that I used to think was quieter than a seminary during meditation hour suddenly became cranked up to a fever-pitch. A crazy winning streak followed and to my shame I too became caught up in the excitement. Oh, I didn’t leave my old Habitant religion for this new, fly-by-night cult, but I must admit that I cheered it on. It was fun and exciting to watch this team play, their never-say-die attitude, the enthusiasm of the young Sens and the wisdom and humour of their new Head Coach Dave Cameron, who I used to think of as merely the owner’s lackey. I was in Toronto at my daughter’s provincial hockey championships and I watched their final regular-season game in Philadelphia in the hotel lobby. I let out a whoop of excitement when they won and clinched a playoff spot.

They would be playing the Habs. My loyalty did not waver for one second. There was no question of abandoning the love of my life and I reverted to defending P.K. Subban’s slash on new star Mark Stone’s hand as just another hockey play while Sens’ Army howled like a wild pack of wolves at a feeding frenzy, and what about Erik Karlsson’s head shot to young defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, concussing him for the rest of the series, if not the playoffs? At playoff time, as in war, truth is always the first casualty.

And so, the real story ended like the fairy tale, with the carriage turning back into a pumpkin at midnight. I let out a cheer at the end, but I was happy to see the fans cheering wildly in the Palladium, or is it ScotiaBank Place? during the final seconds. Hockey fans are supposed to be wild and passionate, even if they didn’t storm through the doors at the final siren with torches and pitchforks, smashing windows at the nearby car dealerships and setting grassfires to the nearby fields.

And so best wishes and congratulations Sens’fans. You’ve come of age and I’ve joined your ranks, as long as they aren’t playing the Montreal Canadiens.

But I still think General Manager Bryan Murray should retire. You can’t trust him to handle a contract deal any better than Mike Duffy can handle an expense account !

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