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Top Shelf: Montreal fan experience bridges generations

On the eve of the closing of the Montreal Forum, Canadien legends gathered for and exhibition game. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

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On the eve of the closing of the Montreal Forum, Canadien legends gathered for and exhibition game. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

It was a strange sight to behold.

Over the course of their team’s glorious history, Montreal Canadiens fans never got too worked up about early round playoff wins. Collectively, it was a case of act like you’ve been there before whenever the Habs knocked out an opponent in a series that wasn’t the Stanley Cup final.

But last year, following the Canadiens’ ousting of the Boston Bruins in Round 1, Habs fans took to the streets like their team had just ended a long Cup drought. Some people used the victory as an excuse to engage in deplorable acts of vandalism, but that’s another story entirely.

Watching the Canadiens supporters who were just having lots of good clean fun after Montreal’s first round win got me to wondering: Does the team’s decorated past really have an impact on its younger devotees today?

Given the Canadiens haven’t won a Cup since 1993, it’s fair to say there are 20-year-old fans of the squad who really have no recollection of watching their team reach the top of the mountain.

There’s a generation of people old enough to order beer at the Bell Centre who’ve been reared on mediocre hockey in Montreal.

Despite the disconnect between the team’s glory days and a big portion of its current fan base, I believe the Canadiens’ illustrious past still plays a role in the experience of their enthusiasts today.

One reason for that is the classy way in which the contemporary Habs continue to honor their preceding generations. Fans who never saw Serge Savard, ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion or Larry Robinson roam the ice get a sense for how revered these players were and still are when the organization brings them back to have their sweater numbers retired.

Heck, a whole bunch of teenagers in the stands won’t have any memory of Patrick Roy in red, white and blue when No. 33 is raised up this year, but maybe they’ll understand what he meant to “older” Habs devotees when they blow the Bell Centre roof off upon his return.

And nobody does ceremonies quite like the Canadiens. It’s been a while since the last parade in Montreal, but any happening the team organizes for the purpose of paying tribute to its past always comes across as a classy event with just the right blend of sap and substance.

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Think back to the closing of The Forum in 1996. It was a perfectly orchestrated night that culminated with the team’s symbolic torch all of a sudden becoming a tangible item when it was literally passed through former captains from every era all the way to Pierre Turgeon, the Habs’ captain that year.

It was a unique opportunity for everybody inside and outside the building to stand together and honor generations of Habs players who were suddenly represented as a single entity, standing together on the Forum ice for one last stirring moment in the sun.

Things like this create a continuity among Montreal aficionados that belies age and fan experience gaps. The most blatant example of this remains the status of Maurice Richard as the franchise’s ultimate icon. This, I believe, is an outgrowth of Roch Carrier’s timeless children’s book, The Hockey Sweater.

Even if your grandfather is too young to have seen The Rocket play, any young Habs fan can, at any time, relate to the horror of having a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater thrust upon them and the ensuing plea to have it eaten up by a mob of moths.

Yes, being a Canadiens fan is still something special. That fact will be evident time and time again during a ceremony-filled 100th anniversary season.

And no matter how old you are, every Montreal fanatic can agree on one thing: it’s time to make some new memories.

 

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

 

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