Friday, May 30, 2014

A Tough Night, A Magical Spring

Montreal's own, Annakin Slayd, inspired all of Habs Nation to "Rock The Sweater". Check out his video!

By now you know, my Montreal Canadiens lost their chance to play for the Stanley Cup in a shutout by the New York Rangers last night. And if you know me, you probably know (or can guess) that the heavy heart I'm carrying around is weighing tons.

I was never like this. I started loving the game, truly getting into rules, strategies and all the trappings, the last time the Habs were here: 2010-11 season when once again, they were eliminated in the step before going for the Cup.

That year, however, the team had won 1 game in that series. This year, we enjoyed 2 wins - albeit playing on the brink for the last 2 games. The team gave me, and the entire city of Montreal a true sense of hope and believing, because they seemed to be playing their best against adversity.

But it was not to be. They didn't even put one in the net last night, and the Rangers now move onto the Finals.

I cried.

There, it's out. I was in tears when 2 minutes remained on the clock, my heart pounding so loudly I could practically hear it, and wondering why on earth I put myself through this every time.

I couldn't watch the last seconds speed to the end, so I left the basement, went to my computer, sat here and let my emotions get the better of me.

But I had a job to do: I had a column to write.

See, the Habs gave me, over the years, more than just something to do on a Saturday night, or a week night; they gave me the ability to learn something new - the game and everything it entails - and more, to be able to write about it.

My writing has always been a skill I've enjoyed, and one that has gotten me everything from great grades to connections with people who read my works (whether those are on blogs, social media comments or statuses, or works I have written in other venues).

My writing got me noticed by one of my mentors in the field of cyberbullying, an internationally renowned author and educator, who - along with his colleague - asked me to write a short piece for one of their books, and forever immortalized me in a book on cyberbullying.

My writing has helped me to get noticed by, just recently, an American radio show host and commentator, who had me on his show to discuss cyberbullying and gave me even more of a platform to teach what I do.

But the night my Habs eliminated our hated rivals (yes, the Boston Bruins), I received a formal job offer from an online sports site, to which I had applied to become an opinion writer, and just a week before the postseason came to an end, my first column went up.

Even as it's been one-a-day, the last 3 (I submitted 2 yesterday) were already showing me that my writing about sports has improved. And suddenly, I am visible, I am honing an already-honed skill I've always enjoyed, and who knows where this can take me?

But when I think of the Habs, I have to smile through the tears of disappointment: this has been just the tip of what is a very large iceberg about to break through the Bell Centre ice next season, and in the seasons to come. Our team will never be together this way again, but the ones who will remain with the organization are going to bring us to this point again - and further. Of that, I've no doubt.

And lest you think I'm doing the "homer" wave, I am not saying this because I'm biased (though I am) - I'm saying it because of every analysis I have listened to, every write-up I've read, and every professional I have turned to for my ongoing hockey education. And because I HAVE learned enough to know what I'm looking at, and how to interpret the signs.

The Habs came far - but we ain't seen nothin' yet. My car flag will continue to fly high.

So, I am grateful for the almost-2 months longer we had as fans of this incredible team. I am hopeful for the (very near) future we will enjoy as fans.

And I am profoundly proud - of the players, of the team as a whole, and to be a fan in this beautiful city, with this exceptional team.

Not for the first, and not for the last:

Go Habs GO!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When Ridicule Becomes Reprehensible

A man is injured. He plays an important role in the lives of those who support him and count on his abilities to support their loyalties. The injury isn't critical, but it is serious, and has sidelined him for the time being.

His opponents ridicule him. They laugh gleefully that he's out of the picture. They celebrate his absence. They make jokes about suicide via the method of his injury. Others laugh at the jokes.

Have I completely lost perspective, or is this wrong on every level?

Because I have seen it. Adults laughing at the misfortune of a man they feel is their enemy. A man with some, but not absolute power.

No, I am not referring to Carey Price.

The man in this example is Pierre-Karl Peladeau, a politician for the seriously depleted Parti Qu├ębecois. A man whose primary mission to separate Quebec from Canada is now nothing but smoke but who still, for some odd reason, deserves the ridicule of those who see him as a threat.

Adults making jokes about suicide? Have they, like I, felt the pain of losing someone to suicide? Have they, like I, absorbed the pain of others who continue to mourn loved ones who have taken their lives? When did suicide become a joke?

When did it become okay to laugh at anyone's misery? When did it become socially acceptable to be indignant when our guy is the butt of jokes, but turn around and make it about their guy?

Have we completely lost perspective on what constitutes bullying? Bullying, among other things, thrives when people derive pleasure from the pain of others. What has happened to common human decency? I may not like the guy but I would never laugh at his misfortune.

PKP's accident has left him hospitalized with multiple fractures. I have experienced fractures (one at a time) and they are nothing short of excruciating. What I just saw in a thread mocking PKP's recent biking accident is nothing short of bullying. Nothing short of hypocritical. And nothing short of reprehensible.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Pricey Loss

And so it starts. The naysayers. The doomsdayers. The pessimists. The bandwagon is lighter already.

Carey Price, crashed in his own net by NYR's Chris Kreider, is out for the rest of the series with what is obviously a lower-body injury. And Habs fans are despondent. Rightfully so.

From the start of this season, even from last year's truncated season, we knew we had something special in our goalie. And Carey proved it in nets for the Habs, stopping the impossible and making it look natural; standing on his head to save pucks from going in. And doing it with a calm coolness that defied description.

"Keep Calm and Carey On" became a tee-shirt franchise. Memes all over social media. Descriptions of Carey Price as "in a zone so focused he isn't even on the planet", "ice water in his veins" and "the backbone of the Habs" were not quite hyperbole. He showed a confidence in his own abilities that has given his teammates, his coaching staff, the GM, the owner, and fans of the team an easy sigh of relief to know we have a superstar in nets.

Carey's spectacular performance at the Olympics cemented his superstar status, elevating him to the world stage where he earned accolades from the likely as well as the unexpected kudos (from local news outlets worldwide which otherwise would not have taken notice of a Canadian goalie). Still, he remained humble, modest and turned the spotlight from himself to his teammates, as he continues to do in Montreal.

So when he was knocked to the ice in obvious pain on Saturday afternoon, all of Habs Nation gasped. Carey had struggled with tendonitis in his knee post-Sochi, and it was apparent when he grabbed his leg on Saturday afternoon that this could well have aggravated it. He lay on the ice and despite getting up, resuming play, the score that resulted is proof positive he played injured.

We got the News. It shook us to our core. We have come to understand that with Carey Price, if he can see it, he will stop it. The confidence has been complete. It stands to reason Habs fans are shaken by the news of his series-long absence.

A couple of things: First, Michel Therrien stated "for this series". Not "for the rest of playoffs", and in fact has stated that he hopes to see Carey back in playoffs. That, folks, is confidence in one's team. Which brings me to my second point: the Team.

Yes, Carey is elite. Yes, he is a brick wall and makes stops that are spectacular. But he is one guy, and he stays at the one end, doing what he has been relied upon to do: stop their shots.

There are two other corps: the defense, and the forwards. As long as our defense keeps blocking shots (and many of our forwards do as well - see: Brendan Gallagher), as long as the forwards keep taking shots on net (and our D-men have too: see: PK Subban), and as long as we keep up 60 minutes of motivated play, taking the shots, and stopping the opponent, we have more than a good shot at eliminating the Rangers.

So, do we resort to hyperbole ("catastrophic!" "WORST NEWS EVER!")? Do we jump off the bandwagon and declare this team done?

Or do we buck up, believe in this team, the character of every single player on the ice, and the motivation that more than ever, we must do whatever is needed to support our Habs and let them know their fan base is behind them, and behind whomever the coach has deemed capable enough to guard our net?

I don't know about you, but I'm going for that last option. I am a true believer in my team, and it doesn't stop with one injury, no matter how pricey the loss may feel.

Go Habs GO!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A City United

West Island College, DDO, Quebec

Not everyone is a hockey fan. Not everyone watches every game. And some don't even care about the team that represents their city.

Montreal is different. Our identity as a sports legend is in our hockey team; the Habs are into their second centennial now, and the team has been the home of legends of the game (Ken Dryden, Maurice Richard, Patrick Roy, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson - to name some of the big names known outside of the city as well as within). When written up in columns or blogs, "Habs" is usually paired with "storied franchise". This is for good reason - the oldest team in the league, most Stanley Cups won, most successful in so many ways, and our fan base is second to none.

That last bit? It isn't just because I am part of it; we are truly known throughout the sporting world as the loudest, warmest, and even most critical fanbase of any hockey team in the league. It isn't easy to be a player on the Habs when not performing to potential! But it is really easy to be a fan and welcome our guys on the ice with throat-burning cheers at the Bell Centre, or watching with friends, or watching in a bar with strangers-as-friends.

We talk about the team's achievements as though they are our own:

"We really played the way we needed to" - yes, we were all out there on the ice with the players.

We smile and extend our happiness on "mornings after" a big game, and there is an overall "up" feeling when our team is successful. (yes, there is the opposite cause and effect too, but being a total optimist, I will not go *there*)

Montreal unites as a city when the Habs are doing well, and most especially during the post-season excitement. Once the playoffs begin, with every win, as the team gets closer to advancement in the series, flags begin to sprout on cars, houses, businesses, and even outside schools (see the photo above - a local suburban high school on the West Island). People wear their gear, whether it is jerseys, tee-shirts, hats, jackets, or haircuts (see photo - these are being given outside the Bell Centre on home-game nights, as part of the popular and packed Fan Jam which takes place 3 hours before puck drop).


My personal experiences have been fun; walking into an electronics store on Game Day last week, I met a man wearing his Habs jersey and ball cap. Not knowing him, but not that it mattered, I called, "I hope that's your lucky gear!" He grinned and gave me a thumbs up. I waved and said, "Go Habs GO!" and we went our separate ways.

This afternoon, I was inside a shop that sells food in bulk. Checking out ahead of me was a gentleman with an older man - perhaps his father. He said to the cashier, "We have a big game tomorrow night - we need comfort food!"

I had to chime in. I said, "oh, Sir, I beg to differ - I think that will end up being celebration food!" They both gave me big grins, and we began to discuss the Habs, our confidence, the situation, the possibilities, and we were bonding right there.

The elder of the two was as animated as anyone half his age. He informed me that we're playing in Boston tomorrow, so it might be a tougher game. I simply smiled and said, "We did it in Washington, and in Pittsburgh in Game 7 twice..." He said, "Yes, we did!" He also informed me, "I watch the later games on TV too!" I said, "Wow, you're really dedicated!" He said, "Do you know why I can watch them?" I said, "Tell me?" He said, leaning in with a twinkle in his eyes, "Because I know I can sleep in the next morning!"

He was delightful. We said our "Go Habs Go" as they left - laughing as I mentioned the saying has become Montreal's "aloha", all-purpose greeting. And I was smiling the rest of the day.

Yes, anything can happen. But no matter what (and I believe we will do what we need to tomorrow night in Boston!), this city has become united in our support for our team.

It feels wonderful.

So, for anyone who doesn't care about sports, the game, the scoreboard, the statistics, the history, or the results of playoffs (which is not a bad thing - I used to be among you), I have this to offer: it is undeniable that Montreal is abuzz with the electricity of these playoffs. Enjoy the season, even if you don't embrace the reason. We all benefit when our Habs are on top.

(And because I cannot leave this out..?)


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Passion and Emotion: Walking a Hockey Fan's Tightrope

Tonight's Game 5 against Boston started off with my nerves already on high. To be clear, my nerves were in full swing when Boston eliminated Detroit and were announced as the opponents we would meet in Round 2. Nervous not because of a lack of confidence in my team - not at all! But because Boston presents a whole new set of challenges; they're not only an Original Six team, they are probably our biggest rivals. Yes, they surpass the Maple Leafs because they are (apologies to Leafs fans here) a serious rival, an opponent to truly challenge our guys.

It seems whenever we play Boston, there are headgames involved. Fans troll opposing fanbases, teams get into each other's heads (and physical spaces) and there is an unseen, but almost tangible buzz about Montreal vs. Boston. This goes for regular season as well as for playoffs.

The rivalry has increased over the years, with recent events between these two teams escalating it to what Boston's Coach Julien has even called "hatred". That is strong language but it is visible. No matter what happens during a game, there is always a back-and-forth on social media between bloggers, fans and analysts who tend to invoke that "hatred" and spark even more intense flames.

The latest was an incident that took place in the 3rd period. Trailing by 3 goals, PK Subban sniped the puck past Rask and closed the gap to 2. While it wasn't enough, and time was running out, Bruins' Shawn Thornton took the opportunity, as PK skated past their bench, to squirt PK with water. This was the second time it happened this game, as per PK, but it was enough for PK to go over to the referee and report it. Thornton was seen snickering on the bench, nothing was called, the game ended, and that was it for Game 5, but PK answered questions about the incident. Rightfully, he stated that had he done the same thing, the news cycle would have lasted at least 3 days. We know he would have been vilified for it. Instead, fan bases are once again at each others' virtual throats, one defending the act, the other defending their player for being targeted.

Honestly, this is not the first dirty trick the Bruins have dealt other teams - and as we're in this series with them, the Habs are targets every other day now. Milan Lucic has a history of spearing players in their family jewels - and in this series alone has done so again. Without penalty. He was fined for doing the same to a Red Wings player in Round 1, and so now, is considered on record for it.

Tonight I had tension I was experiencing physically. Granted, the past couple of days have had me sleep deprived due to my dog's discal hernias flaring up, and that didn't help. But I was confident yet nervous going into the game. It's a tightrope I seem to walk when watching the games; each one is important - regular and post-season. But the games against Boston have a special tension of their own inside my head and heart.

My team wasn't playing the way they've played the last 8 games. We looked sloppy, disorganized, almost disoriented at the TD Garden. And as a result, we lost the game.

Halfway through, with a Mother's Day brunch to prepare for, I decided to listen to the game as it played on the television in the kitchen, and went about my preparations. I was physically nauseous from the first period and felt it would be better for my health (and my brunch preparations!) to simply not stay solely focused on a frustrating game which wasn't getting any better.

As I listened with one ear, working on the tasks at hand, I started to question how a game in which I was not playing, in which neither of my kids was playing, at which I was not in attendance, could have me so uptight to the point of physical manifestation.

I've questioned this before as well.

There's one answer: It's the Habs. It's my deep loyalty to the team that, even in losses, never fails to make me proud of my team, my city, my sport of choice. It's the excitement that grows when sharing a simple "Go Habs Go" with a stranger wearing the bleu-blanc-rouge in a grocery store aisle. It's the hope that never wains when the puck drops on a new game, the scoreboard is reset, and the ice freshly smoothed. It's the knowledge that, no matter what happens, there will always be another game to watch, perhaps attend, another win to celebrate, another loss to analyze and learn from, another story to be told, another evening to enjoy.

It's the Habs.

It's as simple and as complex as that.

My hope is never diminished, my excitement never quashed and because there will be a Game 6, and if things go as I believe they will - a Game 7, I proudly cheer:

Go Habs GO!!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Ugly Isn't Universal

The Habs won their first game in Round 2 against lifelong rivals, the Boston Bruins last night. The game went to double overtime and the winning rocket came from PK Subban, who had also opened scoring for the Habs in the first period.

Boston and Montreal have been rival teams for as long as they've played hockey. This is the 34th time they meet in post-season and as time has passed, there are incidents that will always stand out in the minds of fans - some good, some not. The comeback wins in regular season, in playoffs, and in Stanley Cup finals. The collapses, the losses, the fights. These are all part of the tapestry that is woven with Gold and Black, Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. It's in our blood, as fans of the Habs, to loathe the Boston Bruins. You've heard of the term "love to hate"? That's our rivalry with Boston.

In 2011, The Hit heard round the (hockey) world occurred on home ice as Max Pacioretty was driven into the stanchion by Bruins' Captain Zdeno Chara. This game followed a victory by the Habs where Pacioretty scored the winner, and as he skated to celebrate with teammates, pushed Chara out of the way. That incident carried forward to the next game in which Chara went after Pacioretty. There is much debate about intent, and depending on who you talk to, Chara meant to harm, he didn't mean to harm, he knew what he was doing, or it was a "hockey play". What is indisputable, though is the aftermath: The Hit broke Pacioretty's vertebra, and concussed him; he was stretchered off the ice in a hushed, stunned Bell Centre and those watching on television took to social media to express shock, fear, and concern for Patches as well as for the game of hockey in general. The game went on, but the mood was somber. The Habs still went onto a definitive win (4-1) but this Hit defined what was to follow in the NHL as regards headshots and safety.

It also set a new point of contention for fans of both teams. Montrealers were infuriated; Chara received only a game misconduct and was not given any supplemental discipline. Some Montrealers even called 911 to report it as a crime (police were compelled by law to investigate it and this became a source of ridicule by Bruins fans - rightly so, might I add).

Rivalry became revenge. It woke us to the dangers of the game right here at home. And it fueled the face-offs between these two teams even more.

The Habs have emerged victorious in 24 of the 33 completed playoff series against Boston in our history. Recently, however, we lost to them in Round 1 of the 2011 post-season, and 2009.

This year is a year in which the Canadiens have been very strong all season. Despite some key injuries, we entered the playoffs fairly healthy, swept Tampa Bay in Round 1, and are playing "our" game: fast skating, excellent defense, and exceptional goaltending.

The optimism going into Round 2 is high. So last night, when Game 1 began, energy levels were elevated.

PK Subban is a star player for the Montreal Canadiens. He is known to take risks, but they pay off much of the time, as is evidenced by his strong showing in the statistics columns. But he is hated in Boston, he is the one fans boo when the puck is on his stick. That's okay - we all have those.

However last night, a trend that has become more prevalent in these match-ups grew to a level heretofore unseen: racism reared its head again, and flooded social media.

PK has dealt with racism before. We have seen it online on a regular basis (this week's Donald Sterling issue has dominated headlines even in non-sports circles). But last night, on Twitter, the vitriol against PK for his skin color was truly shocking. I will not repeat or provide screenshots of what was said. There is no need to dignify, sensationalize or perpetuate the kinds of remarks we saw.

It got so bad that the "N" word was trending on Twitter (trending topics are words, names, topics that are used so often the software algorithm picks it up and registers it as "popular" enough to notice). Despite the beautiful double-overtime winner and the triumph over a major rival, the headlines were not about the game but about the ugliness that ensued.

Discouraged, but not downtrodden, Habs fans jumped to PK's defense, condemning the Boston fans who made these statements. In fact, the irony of it is not only that Jarome Iginla (a strong player for the Bruins) is of mixed race, but that PK's own brother, Malcolm, has been drafted by the Bruins and is playing goaltender for their farm team. This has been pointed out many times, in comments on social media as well as in comments to stories posted about yesterday online.

And while it is despicable to see, and know these people exist, I am heartened by two statements issued this afternoon. One was made by Bruins president, Cam Neely:

"The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization."

The other comes from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh:

"This is a disgrace. These racist comments are not reflective of Boston, and are not reflective of Bruins fans. I've said before that the best hockey in the world happens when the Bruins and Canadiens play each other, and there is no room for this kind of ignorance here. Yesterday Mayor Coderre and I made a friendly wager on the series, and we closed the conversation by wishing each other the best. I would hope that fans on both sides would follow this example."

Even players at today's practice condemned the racism - of all people, Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand, coming out with strongly worded comments that illustrate our "love to hate" targets have a strong sense of decency after all. 
“The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,”

Read more at:

There will always be those on social media, hiding behind the wall of anonymity and the shield of false bravado, those who will make comments based on nothing but insecurity and deeply held misguided beliefs. We must be careful not to paint others with the same broad brush. I know that not all Bruins fans think the same way and this is evidenced by the influx of Bruins fans denouncing the racism, expressing shame for those who hate in the name of their team, and embarrassment for their city.  I know that most Bruins fans feel the way Habs fans do: it's in our blood to despise the other team, trash talk them within the confines of sports-related rhetoric, and be energized by wins, or more determined by losses to come back in the next match and emerge victorious.

In fact, I've seen Bruins and Habs fans actually unite in solidarity against prejudice today. And isn't that what sports are all about? A common interest, friendly competition, strong loyalties and always-increased anticipation for the next date to deepen the head-butting of rematch.

Sports are the microcosm of life in so many ways. Today, the decent side of hockey fans has emerged and is more heartening to see than the discouragement was to experience.

Oh, and by the way, Boston - PK loves the booing; in a recent interview for the National Post, he stated, "If they’re trying to find ways to get me off my game, that means I’m doing something right.”

It should be a great series between these two teams. But one thing will remain true: the rivalry is alive and well, and true fans can count on their teams to reinforce, and add to, this historic feud for a long time to come.