I have a confession to make. When I first began following NHL hockey back in the '80s, I was a Flyers fan. There. I said it. But before you think, "How could you?!" let me explain.
When I was about 12, I used to mind my younger brothers on Saturday nights, when my parents went next door to play cards with the neighbours. We had two TV channels at the time, so options were limited. After the boys went to bed, the house was really quiet, and for a 12-year-old with an imagination, just a bit creepy. So, one TV channel played a spooky movie every Saturday evening, while the other showed Hockey Night in Canada. Naturally, even though I'd never really watched hockey before, I picked the game because I was too chicken to watch the movie.
The first game I watched in its entirety was one between the leafs and the Flyers. The Flyers' Peter Zezel caught my eye, and I rooted for his team to win. (Even then, I found there was something off-putting about the leafs.) I thought the game was really exciting, and not only did "my" team win, but the player I liked best was first star. I was hooked.
A couple of weeks later, I was disappointed when the game on TV didn't feature the Flyers. It was Montreal versus Boston, but I decided to watch it anyway. I loved it. The iconic red uniforms just looked right somehow. The game was pretty close, back and forth, until the Canadiens exploded for five consecutive goals in the second and third periods. It was really something, watching a team just steamroll the opposition like that. There was this little guy in red too, the smallest guy on the ice, and he scored two goals against the Bruins in a game rife with fights and obvious bad blood.
I was deeply attracted to the Canadiens, but I felt conflicted. After all, I'd decided just two weeks before to be a Flyers fan. It seemed a bit traitorous and more than a bit fickle to dump my new team so quickly. What would Peter Zezel think?
To help me make a decision, I did a little research. The hockey encyclopedia explained that, historically, there was no comparison between the two teams. The Canadiens were superior in Cup wins, victories, Hall-of-Famers, cool stories and mythology. I discovered the legend of the Habs, and a love affair was born. It would be cemented on a November Saturday the following season, when a long-necked, twitchy goalie previewed the Stanley Cup finals by withstanding a Calgary Flames onslaught to win his first NHL game.
Of course, Patrick Roy went on to win another 550 games after that first victory, on his way to becoming the last Canadiens superstar. A lot has happened to the team since then, but I've stayed a Canadiens fan through it all. Even in the dark days, there was always a hope that somehow the rag-tag group on the ice could pull off a miracle.
Anyway, I thought the dog days of summer might be a good time to solicit your stories. How did you become a Canadiens fan? Why do you remain one? Did you ever have an encounter with your favourite player that meant a lot to you? Post your favourite Habs-related experience, and I'll draw a winner from the entries. The prize is a Habs-related novelty that makes me smile, and be grateful I didn't stay a Flyers fan.