Rabid Habs

A City Like No Other, The Montreal Experience

Habs fans

From a very young age I knew that I loved the Montreal Canadiens, but it wasn’t until recently I fully understood why.

That’s not to say I haven’t always been devoted to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. When I was three years old my dad would let me stay up on game nights, I would sit in my high chair watching intently and when the adults stepped out for a smoke break, they would yell in to me “Josh what’s happening?” I would proudly yell back, “Icing on Toronto!” Or whoever they played that night. I cried when Saku Koivu made his return after battling and conquering cancer, and my little heart almost beat out of my chest when I got the chance to fist bump the Habs as they walked out for the third period of an exhibition game at the Air Canada Centre.

It was always clear I loved this team, but coming from two previous generations of Habs fans, I didn’t have much choice. At least I thought that way until three years ago. I got my first job early in grade 12 and knew instantly that I would be saving up for my first trip to the Bell Centre. The Habs were awful that year but I didn’t care. I sat awake for all eight hours of the bus ride up, not caring about the standings, just ecstatic that I would get to see my heroes. PK Subban, Carey Price, I was going to see them live! Truthfully had they been hurt I would have settled for Scott Gomez, anyone wearing the iconic CH was good enough for me. I stepped off the bus and into Montreal for the first time, that was it, I fell in love all over again.

Snow was gently falling over what still is the most beautiful city I’ve seen in my life, it was like something out of a movie. On my way to the hotel I couldn’t walk 15 steps without seeing something Canadiens. Random people I’ve never met would shoot me a smile or a “nice jersey!” I stopped at a convenience store to buy a Gatorade, the store was decked out in Habs gear, the cashier was wearing a Subban shirsey. This city clearly loved it’s Habs, it felt like home.

After getting situated at my hotel and ready for the game, my friends and I started the walk to the Bell Centre. Excitement built in me as I got closer and when I saw it I was floored. The statues, the plaques, the mosaic on the ground making up a giant CH, I probably took 3000 pictures, my friends couldn’t keep up. Like a pinball I bounced from attraction to attraction, more awestruck every time. I must have looked like a crazy person, except I didn’t, I fit right in. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was your first time or your hundredth time going to a game, the excitement level was the same. Everyone stopped by to pay their respects or say a little thank you to the Rocket for all that he did for the city and the team, or maybe to read a few plaques from cup winning years to relive the glory days. It was overwhelmingly powerful to see how much people cared.

Then came the gamebell centre. We played Ottawa that night, even  though we were in last place, the crowd was like nothing else  I’ve ever witnessed. I remember every detail. The deafening  cheer when Erik Cole opened the scoring (and high fived the  referee)  was beautiful. Throughout the game the Ole chant  would start and I would soak in every second of it. Some would say there were high points and low points to that game as Montreal brought Ottawa to a shootout, but not me, for me it was all euphoria. I managed to sneak myself down into the lower bowl, 10 rows off the ice for the third period. Subban let off a shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net after being tipped, I never saw the tip because I was too busy losing my mind that my favourite Hab just scored in front of me. When Carey Price shut the door on the Sens last shooter with a diving poke check, it made for the perfect ending.

After the game it was more of the same in the streets, high fives here and there. Even a guy that stPriceropped his car in the middle of the street to tell me we needed to trade Subban (I love all Habs fans, even the crazy ones). It just added to the experience. I’ve been to four different NHL cities now, none compare to Montreal. My advice to any Habs fan living outside the city of Montreal is simple, find a way to get to a game, no matter the cost. I was a 17-year-old kid who drained his bank account to watch his favourite team play. I came home with one of my fondest memories. (My playoff experience in Montreal tops that list, but that’s a story for another day) When people asked me why I’m a Habs fan I used to say “well my dad and my grandpa are Habs fans so I was really born into it.” Now my answer is much different, now I say it’s because the team, the city and the fans, make me feel like a huge part of something much bigger than I.

Follow Josh on Twitter @JThomasMedia.