The second place I learned to speak French was through a transistor radio, slipped under my pillow, from which I would listen to the broadcast of Montreal Canadiens games on the French-language station that bounced down through the atmosphere and into Massachusetts at night. Here, I learned "le but du Canadien" and a number of other phrases, but mostly, it was the names — that long litany of rolled R's and mellifluous L's. Lemaire. Laperrière. Richard. The gloriously diphthonged Yvan Cournoyer. And Béliveau. Toujours Béliveau, like the last syllable of a romantic poem.Transcendence, as any hockey fan would realize, was Bobby Orr. It is definitely a story that any fan who roots for somebody other than the hometown team could appreciate.
It all started with my father, who coached high school hockey in Massachusetts. I wanted to follow an NHL team, and I didn't want it to be the Bruins because, frankly, at the beginning of the 1960s, the Bruins blew goats. They weren't just bad. They were hilariously bad. Over the first six years of the decade, they won an average of 17 games a year, and they were not as good as their record indicated. As your basic front-running little suburban weasel, I didn't want any part of that, not with the Celtics winning every year. So, one Saturday afternoon, while we were watching a hockey game from some darkened Gardens or another — in those days, the NBA played in Memorial Coliseums and the NHL played in Gardens; go figure — I asked him what team I should follow. The Canadiens were beating the hell out of someone. "Those guys," my father said, pointing to the guys in the dark jerseys on the black-and-white TV. "Watch them. They play the game right."
So I adopted the Canadiens, gobbling what news I could out of the Sporting News and listening to the games when the atmospheric conditions were proper. And I was grooving right along. Montreal won the Cup in 1965, and again in 1966, lost in 1967, but won the next two in a row.
And then transcendence fell right on my head.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Sunday's Boston-Montreal grudge match propts Charles Pierce to reflect on how he became a Canadiens fan: