F—in’ Habs. There, I said it. It’s not like I don’t say it at least 30 times a day. The paperboy misses the porch: F—in’ Habs! The Windows and Doors people wake me up from my afternoon nap with one of their incessant calls: F—in’ Habs! I burn the noodles: F—in’ Habs! An earthquake levels Bali: F—in’ Habs! Everything that goes wrong in the world, I blame on the Montreal Canadiens. It’s convenient and it fits. I believe we would all be much happier and the world would work better and there would be no more stress or pain or misfortune if only the Habs would throw their skates into the river already. But this isn’t going to happen. I am realist and, yes, I am learning to cope.
Someone once said that great clubs need great enemies, but why it can’t be Dallas or Florida or Buffalo, I don’t know. Instead, it has to be the most arrogant and self-satisfied of all teams grinding against that which I love. It has to be the (F—in’) Habs. Argghhhh. Once more, only longer: Arghhhhhhhhh! Montrealers, Frenchmen, Québécois, the New Brunswick and Manitoban diaspora: ok. I get it. I get cheering for a team in whose loins you’ve been raised, but Anglo Habs fans who come from elsewhere are beyond comprehension. And if that elsewhere happens to be Toronto—my home and the home of the Maple Leafs—then I’d rather they don’t make any contact with me whatsoever. But this is impossible, because many of them are actually my friends. Which makes it worse. Doubly worse. Triple worse!
It must be said that my antipathy towards the Habs has nothing to do with Montreal itself. I love the city, although those who espouse its charms at the expense of Toronto can suck it. Toronto rules, but, true, Montreal ruled before it. And ya, okay, there’s something special about Saturday night at the Forum, except they tore down the Forum and built the Bell Centre, which is still a decent rink, if only because it’s filled with Montrealers, who bring with them the European electricity of the streets and hushed reverence for the sport and luscious cheers for their occasionally triumphant (F—in’) Habs. Just looking in from the TV—which I did on Saturday night—revealed joy and excitement before the game started: moustachioed Gallists and their pre-moustachioed sons; bundle-haired Westmount cronies in winter coats busted out for the new October cold; Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Yvon Lambert; and a gorgeous anthem singer trilling in two languages. Throughout all of this, players named Diaz and Cole and Moen stood along the Montreal blueline. Jacques Martin shuffled at the bench. Not two weeks into the season, the (F—in’) Habs had won one game and lost four. I giggled to myself—actually, that is a lie; I giggled loudly, for all to hear—and settled in to watch the nearly undefeated Leafs take on their historic rivals.
I am not above admitting that the game was sloppy and only found its rhythm after forty minutes of fits and starts, but it was pretty much the greatest night of my life. The greatest! Mikhail Grabovski scored the winning goal in overtime, a totally vintage Montreal-style goal. The square Belarussian whirled this way, then that way before moving the puck behind his back from out of the corner. After swishing it into the net, he was creamed by some red and blue defender not named Markov or Spacek—or even Subban, for that matter—but it didn’t make a difference. Leaf players spilled over the bench, draping their hero in cloth and leather and spit. My daughter and I shouted “Grab-bee!” “Grab-bee!” “Grab-bee” and once I’d put her to bed, I emailed all of my Habs’ friends to rub it in. Then, after the house was quiet and Mike Milbury and PJ Stock had finished talking about how great the Leafs are, I stood in the middle of the living room and said “F—in’ Habs” before going to bed. Outside, a cat mewled. Someone honked a horn. It sounded weird hearing it that way, out of joy, rather than hurt or disappointment.