Rabid Habs

How I Became a Habs Fan in Germany

Growing up in Germany, ice-hockey is not exactly the most popular sport. Football (a.k.a. soccer) is everything and even if you get past that basketball, handball and tennis might still rank ahead of ice-hockey in terms of popularity.

You can tell the difference by looking at the prefix “ice-“, which we always use to distinguish the sport from our “hockey” a.k.a. field-hockey. You can easily hit puberty in Germany without having ever heard about hockey, especially if you live in a province that barely has ice-rinks like I did, if it wasn’t for the Olympics.

So before I got into the Habs I first had to discover the coolest game on earth. This happened during the Albertville Olympic Games in 1992. I was 9 years old at the time and it happened to be my first Olympics that I remember. And ice-hockey wise, it was special just for that one game. Germany managed to reach the quarterfinals and reporters told me what a big deal that was. Our opponent: Team Canada.

Unbeatable, they said, and yet a game would unfold that is probably forgotten by most Canadian fans today, however, in German hockey history it became one of the biggest dramas ever and holds a special place in our hearts.

After an amazing contest, Germany forced Canada into the shootout, the first ever at the Olympic Games. It was up to Peter Draisaitl (yes, Leon’s daddy) to even the score as the 6th shooter. The puck went through Canadian goalie Sean Burke’s legs, but stopped right there on the goal line. So close! The game was lost, but hockey had a new fan.

A year later I got my first GameBoy and when browsing through new games I noticed that there was a hockey game as well. I bought it (or  rather, had my parents buy it for me), switched it on and had 8 NHL teams to choose from. For some mystical reason I immediately went straight for the Montreal team, even though they meant nothing to me at the time, but since the game came out in the aftermath of the 1993 season I never regretted picking them. With all the success I had playing with Montreal, I wanted to know more about them. But it was the ’90s! In Germany! The NHL basically didn’t exist for us.

With the dawn of the internet I used one of my first computers to write an email to a national youth sports magazine, which occasionally covered US sports. I asked them to write an article about the Montreal Canadiens. By that time at the mid-90s all I knew about the NHL came from the results pages (and only results) in sports magazines and every couple seasons a sports channel would maybe do a weekly 30-minute highlight show of the NHL that got cancelled again the very next season. That was it. And when the blue, white and red sweater appeared on the screen for just a few seconds I was super thrilled. That was my team.

About a year after the email, I was swept off my feet when I bought the magazine again, went through it and suddenly ran into two pages about the “Habs.” Up to that moment I had no clue about the history, the passionate fans and – quite frankly – that they were called the Habs. I soaked up those two pages and, fortunately,  the times were about to change with the internet providing more and better portals to now follow NHL hockey. My love for the Habs could finally develop into being a die-hard fan.

In 2002, I finished school and used the time before university to make my first big trip to North America. I wanted to see Canada. At least that’s what I told my family and friends as an excuse. My obsession was big enough already at that time to make the top priority seeing the Habs at the Bell Centre. So I went over to Canada and somehow managed to get tickets for two games. The first game was lost in OT against Columbus and it was a certain Czech guy named Jaroslav Spacek who ruined the night for me with his game-winner. But on the second night we were successful with a 3-2 win over the Oilers.

I enjoyed every minute of my first encounter with Canadian hockey passion and was amazed that everybody in the city had something to say about the most recent game, no matter where you went and whom you asked. I also bought my first Canadiens jersey on that trip when I stopped at the Hall of Fame in Toronto. The girl at the checkout mumbled something that I did not understand in that moment. My sister, who joined me on the trip, later told me that she mumbled “You really want to buy THIS?”. I guess offending my first Leafs fan was the moment I really became a true Canadien.

Since then I try to follow the team, wherever I can. Due to the time difference it is still not easy to do so, but compared to the 1990s I think we’re in heaven now. I look forward to any SuperBowl weekend these days, not for the football game, but for the matinee games the Habs traditionally play that weekend, which run at a good evening time in Europe.

And thanks to a variety of internet sites like Rabid Habs, I don’t even have to miss the trade rumours and discussions about the current GM or coach anymore. There is only one thing I haven’t seen yet in my life as a Habs fan and I want to see that soon: The players lifting up the Stanley Cup!

by Markus Nisius (@GERHockeyBlog)