Being a fan of a hockey team is a lot like a relationship. There’s tons of love, some anger, some fights, lots of reconciliation and forgiveness. There are quirks you can deal with, others you can’t stand. Overall, it’s a relationship you have to maintain, work on by often picking your battles. It’s hard enough to maintain on its own, but when a third party gets involved, doing everything in its power to break the two of you, it becomes even harder. And when that party is the nagging mother-in-law, good luck!
Eventually in a relationship, if things aren’t working out for one or both individuals, you need to talk about it. But when there’s only one party willing to fix things, it leaves little choice. Either you stick around and endure, or you go your separate ways. If your partner chooses their mother ahead of you, it makes for a situation where you need to do what’s best for you. The NHL has interfered so much between my Habs and I, that I find myself at a crossroad. I am seriously considering giving up on our relationship of five decades… as Geoff Molson, a man who I highly respect, at the helm of the team that I love, is picking his mother, Gary Bettman, ahead of the good of our relationship.
Love at first sight
When we first met, I was a young boy living in Sherbrooke, Quebec. I sat and watched my beloved Montreal Canadiens with my Dad, who taught me a lot of what I know about the team, its history and the game in general. On school nights, I had to go to bed after the first period but on Saturday night, I sat with Dad and got to watch the whole game!
During the playoffs, it was the same deal. The only time I could stay up on school night was if the Canadiens were in the finals and had a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Then, I’d sit and watch the whole game, listening to René Lecavalier and Gilles Tremblay describe the game like no others have been able to do since them. And 10 times in my lifetime, have my beloved Habs put their name on Lord Stanley. Each time was an incredible experience, reinforcing my love for the Sainte-Flanelle.
Over the years, my parents and I have invested in that relationship. I will never forget the day that I got my first Habs’ jersey. It was my practice jersey, with matching socks, that I wore religiously at every practice in minor hockey. I wanted to be a goalie like my idol, Ken Dryden. But I started late (at PeeWee), and the team had their two goalies so I settled for… Guy Lafleur.
In numerous occasions, while still in Sherbrooke, I would drive the couple of hours to go watch my beloved Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. Regular season, playoffs, the atmosphere was always electric. Win, lose, I had a chance to cheer them on… well before the arrival of the hockey evil itself, social media.
When I had kids of my own, two beautiful and smart daughters, I raised them to love the Habs, got them merchandise. I was living in BC then so I didn’t have the luxury of taking them to the games. But they watched with me. Both played hockey and are avid fans of the game to this day.
In came Gary Bettman
Then, in 1993, came current NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Little did I know at the time, this would signify the slow decline of my interest in hockey and, ultimately, in my Canadiens. That’s a big statement, I know. But if you know me, you know that I shoot from the hip and call a spade a spade. While NHL owners (and some fans) will strongly disagree with me, he is the single worse thing that has happened to the NHL. At least, to the product on the ice.
As we’ve just touched on, the decisions have all been one-way: to make the NHL owners’ money. Unfortunately, they forgot to keep things interesting for the fans. Ridiculous rule changes, over-expansion, lousy officiating, fans have been forgotten though it all. And I am one of them. My love for the game has been gradually fading ever since.
The league needs a man who not only will keep growing the game, but someone who understands the product on the ice. The NHL needs a leader who will not only do good for the owners, but who will be able to stand up to them, or rather lead them to keeping a good product on the ice. Bringing back accountability. A man like… Brian Burke.
To make matters worse, the arrival of social media added to the unpleasant experience of not only discussing about hockey and my favourite team, but it has become a huge contributor to taking away the fun of commenting during games with fellow Habs’ fans.
Twitter in particular has become a very aggressive, and mostly negative place to be. It’s that way when the team wins at times, but when they lose, watch out! There’s no such thing as cheering on your team. Sitting in their parents’ basement in their tighty-whities, everyone is a self-proclaimed expert… and they’ll make sure to let you know about it. No such thing as agreeing to disagreeing. Opinions are mistaken for facts. Others are idiots for daring contradicting you.
All of this means that this could very well be my final season following the NHL and, most importantly, my Montreal Canadiens. I can see some people say that I’m over-dramatizing things, that I won’t follow through with it. Well those people obviously don’t know me. I have very strong convictions and I don’t make decisions like this on a whim.
When the NHL threatened to lock out the players the last time, I told whomever would listen that if Bettman did that (again), I would stop spending money on NHL products for five (yes, 5) years! The NHL locked the players out and we have lost an entire season. Guess what? I did not go to any games, I did not purchase Centre Ice, I did not buy any merchandise (for myself or others) for five consecutive years. Oh it was nothing to the league, but it was everything to me.
So with the NHL further pushing me away, with the mother-in-law putting her nose in my relationship with the Canadiens, I am faced with another decision. As it’s unlikely that the NHL or the Canadiens’ ownership will do anything about the problem, there’s a chance that this could be my last year following hockey. There’s a chance that I’ll be looking for another hobby. There’s a chance that I will delete my Twitter account and maybe either revamp this blog or close it permanently. I bought a guitar to learn to play. I might focus on that. But one thing is for sure… the day that I do walk away, it’s unlikely a break to come back later. Stay tuned but in the meantime, Go Habs Go!