Saturday, January 14, 2023

Triple Low Five


    When the Canadiens first announced they'd be honouring P.K.Subban with a special night at the Bell Centre, many of us wondered, "Why?" After all, others who made bigger contributions and spent more time with the Habs (hello, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec!) didn't receive such treatment.
    Subban was a controversial figure when he played in Montreal, often through no fault of his own. Rumours of strife in the dressing room, conflict with management and Subban seeing himself as bigger than the team swirled through parts of his tenure. Although his hurt at being traded later translated to a few salty comments, there's no doubt he was a huge fan favourite. Most of the younger generation had never seen anybody like him before. So, when Subban would take the puck end to end (losing it half the time), they stood and cheered for him. When he made bold predictions, they loved it and when he was traded, they were furious.
    Still, considering the fact the Canadiens franchise prides itself almost to the point of silliness on its storied past, it seemed a bit strange to honour a player who spent only six seasons with the team. It didn't really fit with the celebrations we've seen retiring Hall-of-Famers' sweaters or marking a thousand games with the club.
    However, in a sad sort of way, it makes sense. At some point, the whole torch thing, the banners and the retired numbers become meaningless for a fan base that's never seen a Stanley Cup parade. Sure, they're impressive and all, but when number 33 is the most recent raised to the rafters and the man who wore it left Montreal almost 30 years ago, they're not exactly a touchstone for people who never saw them play.
    The new management regime understands fans need heroes they know, and for an entire generation, Subban was as good as it got. To them, he embodied the excitement of Canadiens hockey. He was brash, flashy, outrageous sometimes and a lot of fun to watch. In an increasingly diverse sport, he was also a reflection of the fanbase to itself in a way many hockey fans hadn't experienced before his arrival. He wasn't the best Hab, by far, but he was the modern-day reasonable hand-drawn facsimile. 
    It was touching to watch Subban accept his accolades, and fun when Carey Price came out for one last triple low five with his old friend and teammate. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps honouring Subban was a bit of a stretch, but the fans in the arena that night loved it.
    For those of us who remember watching Brian Skrudland's goal nine seconds into overtime, a sweaty Guy Carbonneau hoisting his first Cup as captain or Jean Beliveau skating into the sunset carrying Lord Stanley, the triple low five is a cute gimmick between friends having some fun. For those under 40 (40!), it's an adored piece of team lore. And, sadly, it's the best they have.
    On his special night, Subban spoke stirringly to the current roster, exhorting them to honour the uniform and leave it all on the ice. If they can and do, perhaps the next player the team honours in retirement will be one who excites the fans and delivers the championship they need, if accolades and Habs lore in the future are to have much meaning at all.