Thursday, May 19

‘A spiritual necessity’: the cultural weight of the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff race | Montreal Canadiens

For a team with so much history, it is inevitable that you go back to the past to discover the present.

It was October 1975 when the Montreal novelist and incisive social provider, Mordecai Richler, submitted an article for Esquire magazine titled “The Home Team, My Heroes.”

Describing his city as “easily the most prophetic of hockey towns”, he refers to the Habs as a “spiritual necessity”. It could be the most definitive profile of the team, it is no small thing considering the number of column centimeters dedicated to opinion, analysis, rumination and condemnation over the decades.

The reason Richler’s broadcast is so good is because he has 10 paragraphs before he finally talks about hockey. And, right there, is everything you need to know about the Montreal Canadiens.

Their loss in the Stanley Cup final to Tampa Bay Lightning 28 years ago since a Canadian team last won a championship, while their appearance was the first time in a decade that a team from north of the border reached the decisive match. So, given the national grind, you’ll be forgiven for assuming a huge wave of support received your compelling and largely inexplicable career. But it was not like that.

After upsetting a pair of North Division rivals, the always upbeat but dysfunctional Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets, to advance to the semifinals against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the Government of Canada tweeted its support for the only remaining contender. of the nation.

“Good luck to Team Canada,” they offered bravely, before adding:

“All of Canada is after you.”

Only the Habs could have secured such a wide range of hysterical responses. There were references to separatism (two Quebec referendums in 1980 and 1995 seeking independence from the rest of Canada), racism, and secularism (the province’s controversial Bill 21).

“Only if there is a cliff in front of you,” was one of the less colorful responses.

Perversely, given that many North American sports franchises are relatively interchangeable entities and lack personality, history, or a broader cultural link to their communities, the reaction served as a reminder of just how deep the Habs’ social imprint is. But is that why so many Canadians were reluctant to accept his really compelling playoff momentum?

“The truth is, there is no ‘team Canada’,” says Marc Antoine Godin, a longtime Habs correspondent.

“It’s mainly a parish hockey thing. But the Canadiens are still the closest thing there is, and there are stories across the country of families developing a special bond with this team. As for any social element, aside from simple fandom, which would explain why Canadians are not more embraced than they are, it could be speculated that a certain anti-Quebecois sentiment may sometimes be at stake, not to mention the perennial frank duality. -English. , but I wouldn’t draw conclusions based on that. There is no great general argument to explain it. “

Perhaps success has a lot to do with it. Despite drawing ever closer to three decades since the last title, the Habs remain alone when it comes to Stanley Cup victories. More importantly, it’s not even close. His record is 24, with the Leafs leading the chasing group with 13. And Habs fans will happily remind him of that. Frequently.

However, perhaps it is also holiness. When it comes to hockey, every Canadian city has a deeply ingrained, almost worrying obsession with the game. But fans of the Habs have a distinctive moral superiority, that somehow their organization simply means more. As irritating as it may be to some, it’s hard to argue.

“It’s a franchise rooted in the past and for good reason, because not much good has happened in a long time,” says Michael Farber, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and longtime Montreal resident.

“When you walk into the locker room, you see the words of In Flanders Fields, written by John McRae, a Canadian with strong ties to Montreal.

‘We throw at you from hands that fail you / The torch; be yours to keep it high. ‘ And there are the headshots of all the Hockey Hall of Famers who played for the Canadiens. Now if that affects the players, I don’t know. But you can’t miss it. Infuse everything that this franchise is about. It is part of the DNA. Do the players accept it? I’m not sure. But there is something to play for the Canadian Hockey Club and wearing that ‘CH’ on your uniform ”.

Canadian actor, writer, and director Jay Baruchel is an obsessive fanatic and detailed his lifelong Habs-related neuroses in a memoir, Born Into It.

“We have the most fans of any team here, but that doesn’t mean it’s a unifying thing that everyone can support,” he says.

“There are some hardcore Leafs fans across the country and it’s crazy to expect them to support the Habs. But I say that knowing a lot of them They were encouraging them, based on patriotism. “

Stanley Cup Final
Fans cheer before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Center. Photograph: Andre Ringuette / Getty Images

Gradually, especially once the Habs confirmed their place in the final, more Canadians reluctantly toned down tribalism, probably a broader reflection on how they see the bigger picture – that the NHL now sees the birthplace of the game. as an afterthought.

“I have no doubt that a large number of Canadians supported Montreal over Tampa, as the feeling that the game has been Americanized under Commissioner Gary Bettman is widespread in Canada, and probably one reason why the Olympics they are still so crucial to expressing Canadian hockey dominance. ” Godin says.

“Because the NHL business certainly doesn’t reflect that.”

So where do we go from here?

Habs can be very proud of their journey. It was unexpected and, for the most part, unimaginable. The accepted version of events is that this group was a hodgepodge of low-level and lesser-known personalities, more in tune with the playoffs than the regular season. Raw yet exciting kids like Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and fresh-faced Cole Caulfield mixed with grizzly veterans like Corey Perry, Eric Staal, and Captain Shea Weber made for a steely and consistent cocktail. It may have been an acquired taste, but fans got drunk on the possibilities. And given the sobering lack of confidence that has eroded so much for so long, it was more than enough.

Still, despite the one-sidedness of the Tampa result and the general awareness of how interim coach Dominique Ducharme’s “crazy bunch of boys” simply lacked that pinch of stardust to compete consistently, there was a huge pang when the buzzer sounded. final bell.

Arguably the most frustrating aspect of the Habs’ current era is that goalie Carey Price has yet to achieve Stanley Cup success. It is a parody that outside the world of hockey, he remains a largely unknown figure. Although his team has struggled to make an impact in recent years, Price has managed to take home the Hart Trophy (awarded to the league’s MVP) and the Veniza Trophy (awarded to the league’s best goalkeeper). He was magnificent this postseason and still, after last night’s loss, he accepted full responsibility.

“I just don’t think I played well enough at the beginning of the series,” he offered, when asked to explain the loss.

It is an absurd notion, of course, that everyone knows. But it was the measure of the man and it said a lot about his morals and motivations.

An added layer is that Price is a member of the Ulkatcho First Nation and is deeply proud of his heritage. In late May, the remains of 215 indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, the same province where Price grew up. Since then, a litany of new burial sites have been found and the country has been forced to face the realities of its sinister past. During the series against the Winnipeg Jets, Price was on his way to the MTS Center for Game 2 when he noticed a woman standing outside a church, the bars decorated with 215 orange ribbons. He approached Gerry Shingoose and they talked, and Price revealed that his grandmother was a survivor of the residential school.

“Knowing that he’s a generational survivor, and he knows the story, and he knows our truth … it was good to make that connection with him tonight,” she told reporters afterward.

“It made my day. You could see the kindness and the caring.”

Who knows what impact it would have had on the country’s self-reflection process if Price, such an inspiring figure to First Nations communities, lifted the Stanley Cup. But more importantly, Canada really shouldn’t need that anyway.

“Carey Price is one of the nation’s most important role models for First Nations peoples,” says Godin.

“He has been involved for years in sharing the message that great things can be achieved despite the improbable, and he has been very present with First Nations children. That being said, he is also a low-key man and someone who does not seek to be the center of attention. I don’t see that you are too comfortable serving as a “public healer” after the recent tragic discoveries. He may be exactly the hero this country needs right now, but don’t tell him. ”

Still, Price is a Hab and proud to be. In 2017, when he signed a gigantic contract extension, the famous monosyllabic figure was surprisingly chatty and somehow explained what it’s like to represent the team.

“I have enough experience to know how to deal with almost any situation that comes my way,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s tough, but sometimes it’s the most fun you’re going to have in the entire NHL. There is nothing that compares to it. ”

What happens next is that the Habs, like the Canadian hockey community in general, will continue to function. After all, it’s only three months until you start over.

Turns out Richler was right all those years ago.

“Everyone you meet these days is depressed,” he wrote in Esquire.

“The players, they say, are fat, indolent and overpaid. Frenzied expansion, obviously fueled by greed rather than respect for tradition, has ruined an excellent institution. The season is terribly long and the current play-off system is an unacceptable joke. And yet, and yet Saturday comes, it’s still “Hockey Night in Canada” and, diminished or not, Canadians are the! And me too, with my eyes fixed on the television. The legendary Canadians. “

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