Back when I was young: The Montreal Canadiens were expected to win


They say that one of the signs you’re getting old is that you find yourself, more and more often, using phrases such as: When I was a boy/girl, Back when I was young, In my day, When I was a kid. Well, you get the idea. Rather than fight this tendency I’ve decided to embrace it by posting, on occasion, blog entries the title of which will begin with “Back when I was Young”.

I welcome others to post similar pieces and let me know so I can link to them here.


Back when I was young, the Montreal Canadiens hockey team was expected to win. It was a foregone conclusion in many Montrealer’s minds that the Canadiens would win. The story goes that, so confident was he, long-time Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau, in his annual planning briefing, would state “…and the Stanley Cup parade will take its usual route”. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the  Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup; a phrase I, at one time, never thought I’d hear, let alone write. (Currently the team is playing much better than hoped for, and an exciting, albeit truncated, season is providing Montreal fans with a taste of what used to be.)

MIKE BLAKE , REUTERS
Mike Blake , Reuters

Spectators didn’t go to the Montreal Forum to see the team play, root for them and hope for a successful outcome to the game. Nope, they went to see them win, much like an opera buff attending a performance at La Scala doesn’t hope for a stunning performance: he or she expects it. And God forbid anything less than stellar should be presented. Perhaps the stereotypical Montreal season ticket holder was a man who, sitting in the expensive red seats, wore a jacket and tie to every game. He brought a newspaper to read during stoppages in play and during the intermissions. He took wins in stride but was angry, not disappointed, on those occasions when the team lost.

In 1967 the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Had you told a celebrating Toronto fan on that day that before the Leaf’s would win another Cup, the Toronto MLB franchise would win two World Series,  you would have been taken for an idiot.

The franchise was often compared to the New York Yankees and the word “dynasty” was never far away. Until 2001 the team had never gone more than seven years without a championship.

In 1967 the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Had you told a celebrating Toronto fan on that day that before the Leaf’s would win another Cup, the as yet non-existent Toronto Major League Baseball franchise (the Blue Jays) would win not one, but two World Series (’92 & ’93) you would have been taken for an idiot. However …

1966 Stanley Cup parade in Montreal

As I’ve explained elsewhere, the picture at right shows, by pure chance, the six-year old me attending the 1966 Stanley Cup Parade (or at least it shows my left ear). During my formative years, let’s say through my teens, the Montreal Canadiens won 11 Stanley Cups. That’s eleven championships before I had turned twenty. The year I was born, 1959, the Canadiens won the cup for the fourth time in a string of five – from 1956 to 1960.

During my younger years watching the Habs, they had some outstanding teams, but perhaps none so much as the 1976-77 version of the team that won 60 games out of an 80 game schedule. Even more impressive was the team’s home record of 33 wins, one loss and six tied games. Other than the Boston Bruins’ 4-3 victory over the Canadiens on October 30, 1976 the team did not lose another home game that season!

This is what I grew up with; this is what influenced my approach to the NHL and the Canadiens in particular. So now, with the Canadiens just another team – certainly no longer a dynasty, I can only wonder what went wrong? Maybe I should spend less time looking at the banners that hang above the ice in the BELL Centre and more time watching what’s on the ice.

But it’s just not the same.

MeDCMontreal is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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6 thoughts on “Back when I was young: The Montreal Canadiens were expected to win

  1. Nicely done, Deegan. I share many of your sentiments. Those were also the days when the only time you had thunderous noise in the arena was when the Canadiens scored an IMPORTANT goal. The absence of eardrum-numbing pop tunes over the sound system is missed.
    A few other warm memories of those times for me include:
    • Polite applause as they left the ice during an on-the-fly line change for the four defenders who had successfully killed off the first half of a Canadiens’ penalty;
    • The booming voice chanting ‘Go Habs Go’ from the standing room section behind the highest red seats (I think the guy’s name was Dutch, or something like that);
    • the trumpet player rallying fans;
    • John Ferguson (rest his soul) policing anyone and everyone on both teams (Mr. Lucic, meet Mr. Ferguson, I’d love to hear someone say).
    Michael Farber, in the Gazette, once compared spectators watching a Canadiens’ game at the Forum to an opera audience in Moscow, where the observers were as aware of the subtleties of the performance in front of them as the players on the stage. It could not have been put any better.

  2. Hey DC,

    Nice post! Like you, I was at many habs games during those years. I was very lucky. A good friend’s father had 2 season tickets, 3 rows back of the habs bench. He prefered to stay at home and watch the games on his then quite expensive La-Z-Boy recliner! We would show up early and watch the pregame skate ususally to a loud group of the Pocket Rocket’s fans about 10 rows behind us who would yell…

    ENREEEEEEEEEE!!! ENREEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! And Henri would look up, smile and wave.

    Great memories!

    I think that the new team has a lot of promise. I think they just ran out of gas last year but have a very bright future. I love Gallagher and I think Alex Galchenyuk will evolve into a great player. A few more pieces and this team can contend with anyone … especially that they now have a few … rather large lads … to look after the smaller players.

    GO HABS GO!!!!

    Cheers,
    Gil

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