Saturday, November 22, 2008

Worshipping At The Alter: St. Patrick's Day Game Preview And Open Thread


I admit that a major part of my being is being a Canadiens fan. I define myself by it in many ways - not the least of which is devoting hours of otherwise free time to a blog devoted to all things Habs. I have asked myself on many an occassion - admittedly, almost exclusively after a particularly frustrating loss - why I'm a fan of this particular franchise. Yes, in its origin it was no more than an accident of geography, little 13-year old Panger being no exception to the general rule of thumb that teams choose their fans - not the other way around - through proximity or by the passing on of genes imprinted with (invariable, at least for my generation and prior) their father's team's logo. And let me be clear, I mean no slight to fans of other teams who I am sure feel just as strongly about thier team. In other words, this is about us Habs fans, not anyone else.

The Canadiens are different, special, unique. The root reason is obvious: the club predates the very league in which they play, and has dominated like no other franchise in hockey history. The combination of time and winning led to memories, then tradition and, ultimately, myth. I use the term myth very particularly, in the sense that it is a sacred narrative that holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it - or, more to the point, participate and believe in it. This is my preemptive strike on those who believe themselves clever and try to twist my words against me to claim the subject of today's post is only a myth. To these critics, I say that you are missing the point, that a myth is born in some fact but its importance emerges regardless of what the actual facts may be. The Canadiens, and so many of its former club members, transcend sports fanaticism, and I have a deeply held faith that fans of Le Club de Hockey Canadiens have an emotional, spiritual and - I daresay - religious link to this hockey club and a handful of its players.

I expect more than a few readers are asking where this comes from, so I admit my bone fides: While little Panger had the Habs foisted upon him, grown-up Panger trotted off to university to search for the meaning of life and before being sucked into the world of law, this search earned a Master's Degree in Hockey History. Look it up; look hard enough and you'll find a 1998 thesis in the National Archives about Hockey in the Second World War which, in retrospect, lays bare the author's fascination with Maurice Richard and all things Habitants.

This experience immersed me in the history of this franchise in a way I suspect few other hockey fans have - or, admittedly, would be interested in and emerges from studying not only Canadiens history, but NHL/NHA history and sports sociology (especially Marxists). [Not that I think this makes me better qualified necessarily - my only point is I've probably spent way too much time thinking about this kind of stuff.] What emerged was a history of the Montreal Canadiens showing a narrative with a deep and pervasive foundation in its community and beyond that is rooted in history, a history that has become intertwined with a people and nation, with the club itself imprinted onto Canadian history and society. It is part of the identity of Montreal, Quebec, Canada and Hockey. It is part of my identity. I suspect, if you have plodded this far through this all-too unfunny post, you are too.

The time of my studies and introspection on being a Habs fan coincided with dark times in Habs history, the universally lamented Houle-Tremblay era . I admit this put my own hockey values to the test. Living in Ottawa, sporting a brand-spanking (well, resurrected) hockey team, there seemed to be an option which never presented itself before: could I switch allegiances? Although a cardinal sin according to Bill Simmons (see #19), it passed through my jaded, Tremblay/Houle-loathing mind. But it would not come to pass; it could not come to pass. The pull of the only franchise I've ever loved was too strong. Why? It meant something to me to be a Canadiens fan. For a history-geek, it was natural to follow a franchise that is steeped in it.

The team's famous dressing room motto serve as the opening lines of the narrative: From Failing Hands We Throw The Torch: Be Yours To Hold It High. Not coincidentally, excerpted from one of the, if not the, most famous Canadian poem in the nation's history, shows the culture of Canadian society. Words that embody strength even in weakness, envision and implicitly expect sucess, just like the franchise.

Of course words go only so far, and the deeds of man must take the proverbial Torch and hold it high. The Torch was lit by early martyrs, the Chicoutimi Cucumber (the original #1) and the Stradford Streak (7), figures that stand almost above the game through their devotion to it, cemented by lives given to carry the Torch when it was theirs to hold high. The Torch lit riotious mob fires in defence of thier humble, soft spoken superstar with fire in his eyes and viciousness in his wrists - and make no mistake, there was more underlying these events that the Canadiens lost a chance at extending their record Cup run on that cold March Montreal evening in 1955. The Torch never burned brighter than during this, the Franchise's Greatest Generation, backstopped by Masked Man (another 1) and a Gros Bill (4), combined with a Boom Boom (5) Pocket Rocket (16) and Moore (12). It passed through the quick hands of a Roadrunner, supported by a Flower (10) and entrusted to a lawyer-later-MP (29) and a Senator (18). It took the broad sholders of a Big Bird (19) and the world's most complete hockey player turned The Bob We now Trust (23) to carry the Torch across the bridge from the generations of the 50s and 70s to my own in the 80s. Even through the late ninetys and new century, while the Torch burns less bright running on fumes from Cup victories past, the link continues through not a native son, but a foreigner adopted as our own. There is an aura that surrounds a figure like #11 for those who choose to see it. An auru that emerged through lean times, figuratively and unfortunately literally for a man who all-to-closely came to following the the footsteps of the early martyrs. Special numbers all, born out of mythts, not just to the franchise, but to the faithful.

But there is as much myth, in the sense of falsehood, in the preceeding paragraph as truth. The truth is, Rocket did touch an official, a transgression that today would unquestionably merit sanction. Plane was a moody and aloof innovator, the Flower a chain-smoking quitter. Morenz could be labelled the Alexei-Yashin of his era for his contract demands (the difference being he was holding out for a living wage, not a larger wad). Dryden quit on his team for an entire season to pursue an avenue which would have been just as open (and laborious) after his time on ice had expired. All details, minor and unimportant next to the accomplishments and memories they each invoke for entire generations of devoted fans.

But Patrick Roy is criticised principally for an event that was out of his control, since even pampered modern day players cannot trade themselves. It is not his fault that, unlike the other players mentioned, he did not spend his career with the club. The undeserved criticism heaped on Roy I consider unfortunate and a symptom of the short-sightedness of some people whose only contribution is criticism, unable to frame events - and men - in historical and societal context.

HF29 has already covered what I suspect is the narrative that cemented the myth of St. Patrick for a generation of fans like me. He was unbeateable in OT in the 1993 playoffs (actually he lost one game before the streak). The hockey gods meant for the Habs to win by performing a miracle in the form of a last-minute powerplay, leading them to the Cup (which in fact had more to do with Marty McSorley's brain cramp). Let me share some other reasons little Panger worshipped at the alter of St. Patrick.

Being a geek-historian is also part of my identity, as is being a goalie. Initially, the only reason I can recall for preferring Roy over Hayward (the only suitable candidaites for idolization by a 11-year-old die hard fan in 1987) was because Roy had a way cooler mask. The simple predominante "CH" on the forehead, and a clever little "33" in the place of the "H" on the chin may be boring by today's standards, but it was less boring that Hayward's. It was distinctive only because of its wearer. In retrospect, even his vanilla white '86 model was distinctive to an admiring 11-year old, the plastic throat guard constantly swishing about, the cords popping out, drawing attention to the seemingly massive airholes through which they were looped.

But the real unhealthy man-crush developed in 1988-89, the year Roy helped the Habs lead the Prince of Wales Conference almost wire-to-wire, only to fall to a loaded Calgary Flames team. I'll never forget how Al MacInnis' slapshot was like kryptonite to my masked superman, but I don't care. From that time on, and forever more, Patrick Roy would be Saint Patrick to little Panger.



Because of the extravagent gloves saves. Because of the first 10 shots in OT against the '86 Rangers . Because of the Wink. Because of the 11 OT wins. Even because of The Trade, because he was right and Tremblay/Houle were wrong. But mostly because little 11 year old kids would bounce super balls against their basement walls for hours and practice those flashy, arrogant glove saves, pretending they bore the hallowed "CH" on their foreheads.

Because of this, St. Patrick is a hero to me, earning St. Patrick the place in my generation reserved for his predecessors like Vezina, Plante and Dryden to miniature goalie wannabes in their respective generations. He deserves his place alongside giant Canadiens like the Richards and Beliveau. Not only does he deserve to be there, we fans deserve to have him there.

This is why jersey number 33 is being - and should be - raised to the rafters tonight. Not only because of all the accomplishments over his career - and make no mistake, no one can ever convince me that anyone else approaches St. Patrick as the greatest money goalie of all time and has the numbers to back it up. No, his jersey is going up to hang with the legendary club's hallowed greats because he was the reason for a generation of little kids growing up and around the Montreal franchise to believe in the ghosts, to believe in the divine right of the Canadiens to Stanley's Cups, to feel in their bones the magic and inspiration of this glorious franchise.

To resent St. Patrick is to betray the mythic quality which makes this franchise special. Of course this is a controversal position to hold, given the polarization the man inspires. There is no doubt that Roy the man, as is any man, was flawed: egotistical would only be the opening salvo of his detractors. And much ink and bandwith will be wasted debating the merits of the man, and whether his transgressions serve as santions to strip him of what his on-ice accomplishments have obviously earned him. Just as I truly believe it would have been for his predecessors if they played in the media-hounded fish bowl of the modern sporting world.

But my point it is this: it is not the man's number that is being retired, it is the myth. To disrespect the myth of St. Patrick is to disrespect the franchise, and what makes it important to its devotees. It is a betrayal. It is - and I say this with full knowledge and intention that this slur is the greatest I can hurl at a fellow Montreal Canadiens partisan - Mario-Tremblay-like. And that is why I am calling out HF4, formerly known as HF33:

With the greatest respect to HF4 as the outstanding individual I know and admire, HF4 as a Canadiens Fan, you sir are a TRAITOR for betraying the myth.

Now, I can hold no grudge for selecting the number of the embodiment of class, the thorough gentleman that is the Great Jean Beliveau. But to do so by disgarding the number 33, virtually spitting on a numeral that means what it means to this franchise is to spit on the franchise.

It is a wrong that I can no longer tolerate. I must do what I must to make it up to Vezina and Morenz and their fellow ghosts that no doubt also inhabit the internet vicariously through their devotees. I must do something to honour the inheriter and standard bearer of the Torch for my generation. Today I have a goalie mask not unlike St. Patrick's Canadiens-era dome. Every so often a ref or opposing player will jokingly ask if I talk to my posts. I do. I bobble my helmet, too. Because that's what St. Patrick used to do.

And becaue of my worship for St. Patrick, I too will change my name. I will be a Habs Fan forever 33. Little Panger Promises.

HFF33 aka Panger




This is technically the game preview, so if you've beeen living under a rock here are the details:

Ceremony: 7pm, CBC, RDS TV; CJAD/CKAC Radio

Puck Drop: 7:30pm

Price v. Fernandez (probable). Bruins are hot, first in the division, coming in full of confidence after finally getting the Habs monkey off their backs last game; Habs - individually and collectively - generally not.

Post those comments people. This is a special evening, treat it as such.

47 comments:

HabsFan29 said...

whew, do I get a prize for making it to the end of that?

gotta love the goalies sticking with goalies. well said, though Panger, er HFF33.

subdoxastic said...

Bravo, HFF 33.

Doogie2K said...

GoalePost.com has Thomas as starter. Make of that what you will.

My own feelings on the subject when it first came up two months ago were that, while the circumstances under which he left the team were shameful, it's never not going to be a controversy, so why not embrace it? With the benefit of an extra couple of months, I think I largely fall in with Panger/33. He was the star of my youth, and The Trade was one more kick in the balls after watching my other team (the Oilers) dismantle themselves a few years earlier. I'm quite looking forward to tonight, though perhaps not with the same pure reverence as Panger/33.

There's also something very circle-of-life about 33 being retired now, with the Habs having their best team on paper since he left and another young, talented goalie leading the charge. But as I noted today, I'm not seeing Carbo turning his back on TFS, and TFS subsequently telling Boivin where to go and how to get there.

Doogie2K said...

Oh, and just to clarify and make up for my earlier lack of swearing: Mario Tremblay is still a douchenozzle twatburger.

=P

HFF33 aka Panger said...

@Dookie2k: that's all I really wanted anyone to take away from that post anayway!! So many years later, and I'm still filled with hate...

Senators Lost Cojones said...

*slow, awe-filled, clap*

Sonia said...

While you failed to melt my Roy-resentment, HF-formerly-known-as-Panger, kudos on a very thoughtful and heartfelt post. Enjoy your new moniker & wear it with pride.

About tonight, I really don’t care about the ceremony or even the win. Only one thing on my mind tonight: Die, Lucic, Die!

Carbo’s pep talk tonight should go something like this:

“Boys, no cheap shot can be considered as such if it is committed against Milan Lucic.

Head shot? Don’t think twice.
Spear in the crotch? Make him sing soprano.
Hit from behind? Make sure to leave your feet (and wear a condom).

In addition, weapons may include, but are not limited to: every part of the stick; elbow and shoulder armour; helmet; knee; skate bade; powerful laxative in his water bottle; killer rabbit; passionfruit and pointed stick.

Honestly, boys, I don’t care how badly we lose, as long as Lucic parts have to be scraped off the ice by the maintenance crew.

Now go do the Lord’s work.”

For DOOM!

HFF33 aka Panger said...

Wow. What an enterance. I've never seen anything like that.

moeman said...

Anyone that doubted Patrick's importance to Habs fans can now realize what he really means to us. hank you Bell Centre fans.

HabsFan29 said...

Panger, er hff33, yuor preview sucks. the ceremony starts NOW and i think the CBC is showing the Leafs game

HabsFan29 said...

ps i still love you

eyebleaf said...

Well done, dude. Well done.

HabsFan29 said...

jeebus someone should have proofread the English lines in his speech

why is the cbc showing this like on tape delay?

HabsFan29 said...

those mini-goalies are ADORABLE!!!

subdoxastic said...

I am filled with bile for the CBC-- I actually had to scan the higher channel for CBC Montreal (which is on tape delay?) b/c apparently if you live in ottawa you'd rather slum it with the Leafs and whoever is beating them tonight

HFF33 aka Panger said...

Are the Bruins not on the bench??

HabsFan29 said...

@33 - now that you mention it, i havent seen the Bs at all

moeman said...

All said, a very nice tribute.

Pure passion and emotion, from everyone.

Always in the classy Habs style.

Merci Patrick! (You made my BDay (and Scarlett Johansson's) extra special today.

moeman said...

cbc/hnic will always be proud of its bias. It is was defines them. If they could they'd produce a special Brian Spencer evening. They are a pox that can't be un-poxed. No matter.

Having typed that, kudos to Wendel Clark for a stellar, if awardless career.

and, um, fuck da Bruins!

cottoneye said...

I admit I got chills when Roy said: ''Maintenant, je suis de retour CHEZ NOUS!'' Loved it. But I didn't cry. I did not.

moeman said...

I cried laughing at the leaf fans looking like sad beagles with their a propos jowl-enhancing fake staches...and they wonder?

Also, Mme. Wendel Clark, elle est MILFish, oui.

Doogie2K said...

I liked how the Leafs were wearing the 70s/80s-vintage Clark sweaters. It reminded me so much of Harold Ballard and annual awfulness, it damned near brought a tear to my eye.

Truly a special night all around.

moeman said...

More tiny goalies!

moeman said...

Carbo puts Laps and SmallTits in the announced starting line-up. Message from the CoaCH.

HabsFan29 said...

Panger33 i stand corrected. its indeed on CBC. in montreal at least. with bob cole. ugh

TFS!

moeman said...

Pure. Hockey. Atmosphere.

HabsFan29 said...

Looo-cic just rolls off the tongue

moeman said...

I thought the Habs faithful were saying, 'loose chick'.

HFF33 aka Panger said...

When was the last time they played this physical? It's awesome to see the French players with a spring in thier step.

HabsFan29 said...

Ca-rey!

offspace said...

best game of the season so far! go pants!

HabsFan29 said...

well at least Lucic and BGL are talking

HabsFan29 said...

decently entertaining hockey for a change

moeman said...

Yup, a fun period.

This true rivalry might just be the NHL's best right now.

moeman said...

A Big Titted goal!

HabsFan29 said...

TFS has the "in zen control" sorta thing going. tribute to Patrick

HabsFan29 said...

of course Patrick's control was never zen-like. more psychopathic kinda control

moeman said...

Methinks winking in the middle of an intense Stanley Cup playoff game is pretty zen-like.

HabsFan29 said...

Lucic, fucking kill me. just stab me in the face

HabsFan29 said...

woohoo! 2 goals in 2 games called back

HabsFan29 said...

oh kovy

HabsFan29 said...

FJCK

Limerick Dude said...

fuck.

Limerick Dude said...

I really don't think Rhino belongs in this league right now. I have such a hate on for him now, I've forgotten how much I dislike Breezer. He's like a poor man's less talented Hal Gill...

copyranter said...

Well, the Habs showed some heart//effort/grit/balls/ late in the third period. That was nice to see.

Number31 said...

Patrick! Patrick! Patrick!
Carey! Carey! Carey!
Thank you, that is all.

I wish I had one of those cardboard masks... :(

Doogie2K said...

Okay, so the passing was abysmal last night, and Markov's inability to make a shot probably cost us the game, but the thing that really stuck out to me is something I'm going to argue with people over the rest of the year:

Kovalev is what's wrong with the power play.

At the start of the year, I heard so many "experts" say that with both Souray and Streit gone, the PP was going to suffer, because there were no cannons from the point and no PP quarterbacks, to which I called bullshit. Markov is a good point man, who can pass and shoot just fine, thanks, and Kovalev has always been the true QB, the guy through which everything flows (literally: he's had a hand in every PPGF he's been on the ice for this year). The problem is, in every Habs game I've seen this year, Kovalev has been shit. His line hasn't produced much at EV and the PP has actually been better, statistically, when he hasn't been on the ice, which is fucking astounding. I don't watch enough Habs games to be able to say definitively that he isn't doing Little Thing X, Y, or Z, but I can say that he hasn't been connecting his passes and he doesn't seem to be getting many shots on net, which is obviously problematic.

So anyway, just wanted to get that off my chest.