As a kid, I always liked to watch the Boston Bruins on Hockey Night in Canada. For some reason, every single game – or really, every game and a half – seemed to be the Bruins versus the Montreal Canadiens, and being a long-suffering Vancouver Canucks fan, this was always a treat to see.
And here it comes: I often, if not always, cheered for the Bruins in these heady matchups. Guy Lafleur? Pah! Big Bird Robinson? Pooey! Bob Gainey? Emotionless! Boring!
Instead, I marvelled at the Bruins for a number of reasons. First, they seemed to be the team with the most helmetless players. Being a kid, I just thought that was very, very neat. Players with helmets were just wusses, and they were mostly unrecognizable despite that era’s multitude of helmet designs. It was just more fun to see the brown mop of Terry O’Reilly sweeping up and down the ice in the Gah-den, putting the fear into the opposition. I was a little too late to see the likes of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, but their place in Bruins history is second to none in hockey lore.
Hell, Bruins lore has its place in the movies as well, circa early 1970s, courtesy of Robert Mitchum:
I’m not going to lie – I’ve always appreciated the team’s penchant for continuing the Big Bad Bruins tradition, all the way from Eddie Shore through to Cam Neely and now, the skyscraping captain Zdeno Chara and East Van shoulda-been-a-Canuck product Milan Lucic. Forget the hate-on for the Bruins in Vancouverland – you have to admit the team has personality. And great uniforms, too.
Now, as a married 41-year-old man with a young toddler living in the Boston area, I found myself the lucky recipient of one of the greatest surprises of any hockey fan – two tickets to a game at TD Garden in Boston with the Bruins hosting the hated Montreal Canadiens – thanks to my lovely wife.
Any hockey fan will tell you this is one of the greatest matchups in any professional sport. These two teams – and their fans – spit at each other with vile venom every year, every game, every playoff series. And they’ve been doing it since the early part of the 20th century, with more games played between these two teams than any other two NHL teams in the league’s history.
And many of these meetings are enshrined, nay, branded, in the memories of hockey fans. Gory top-10 lists have been assembled on the most memorable moments of Bruins-Habs clashes over the years:
Yes, blood. Yes, fights. Yes, bench-clearing brawls in the hallways leading to the arena. That’s all just a part of it.
As a lifelong hockey fan, it was a real treat to be there in real life. As not to bore the discerning reader of this blog, I shall break down the highlights of the Bruins-Canadiens clash of March 27, 2013, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts:
1) The reminders that I was in a place of hallowed sports importance
Being from Vancouver, I don’t see much evidence of hockey awesomeness in the city. In Pacific Coliseum, and then the Garage, I look up at the rafters and see very few banners up there. A few conference championship banners – three to be exact – and a couple of division winning banners. And just recently, two President’s Trophy banners. And that’s it. No Cup championships or anything like that.
Walking up the aisle into the balcony seats, for a moment there all I could see were the numerous black-and-gold banners of the six Stanley Cup championships of the Bruins and green-and-white banners of the Boston Celtics’ numerous NBA championships. I got chills up and down my back as I recalled the grainy black-and-white photos in one of my favourite hockey books from childhood – fish-eye photos of the infamous Boston Garden with all those very same banners covering the rafters so that you couldn’t see the ceiling. It made the hairs stand on the back of my neck like soldiers ready to march to war.
And of course there’s the famous Bobby Orr statue of The Goal.
Don’t know what that’s all about? Obviously you’re not a hockey fan or you’re not from here. This explains it all – arguably the most famous goal in NHL history:
Banners? Bobby Orr statue? It was clear: I was in an Original Six town. Very special stuff for a fan like me with meek role models such as Dave “Tiger” Williams and Tony Tanti in the hallowed Halloween-jersey era.
2) The fans
Sorry, Canucks fans. I have heard time and time again that the Garage – I know, it’s not the Garage anymore but I’m calling it the Garage anyway – is the noisiest hockey arena in the National Hockey League. And now that I’ve been to a Bruins game, I shall tell everyone that this is utter, excusatory bullshit.
I’ve been to dozens – maybe even a hundred – Canucks games in my lifetime, many piss-poor ice capades during the 1980s, many dramatic Linden-led battles during the 1990s, and a few razzle-dazzle-them laser shows in the 2000s. The titanic clashes between the Canucks and Calgary Flames were among the best. But despite the bad blood and very rousing fan atmosphere, I never did experience anything quite like what I experienced at the Bruins-Habs showdown on Wednesday night.
I get it. One game does not a fan experience make. And the fact that this was the Montreal Canadiens does make this a contagious soup for fanatic rabies. But still, I was thoroughly impressed by the passion of Bruins fans. Every time a Bruin raged down the ice with the puck – no matter that there were two Habs defencemen between him and the goal – the fans would rise out of their seats and start screaming bloody murder. Every time a run-of-the-mill skirmish happened – and there were a few – fans would yell out priceless morsels such as “RIP HIS FREAKIN’ HEAD OFF!” and “KILL ‘IM!”. And the best part was when the Bruins scored. The roof would raise about two feet, and the fans, especially where I was sitting – nay, standing – would rant and scream and chant and clap in unison well after the ensuing faceoff at centre ice.
It was truly contagious. Hard not to get caught up in the excitement. The firey blue-collar blood of hockey fandom was on full display here. It was honest. It was loud, and not simply because the “MAKE SOME NOISE” sign popped up on the jumbotron.
Not once did I get the feeling that people were there because it was “cool” to be at a hockey game – and this, I admit, is the feeling I get often whenever I go to a Canucks game. Again, sorry, Canucks fans. I do not mean disrespect. What do you mean, show myself out? I’m not done yet.
3) The utter hatred of the Habs
OK, hatred is a strong word. Let’s just term it as passionate disdain for rivalry’s sake. It was very clear that the Montreal Canadiens have very, very few friends in Massachusetts. While I shook my head in disbelief at cheekiness of the two or three Habs fans who flaunted their red and blue Canadiens garb as if asking for a free trip to the hospital, I was more taken aback by the shirts some Bruins fans were wearing. Some prime examples I saw were this:
For some of those in the hockey unknow, Subban is none other than Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, one of those mouths-on-skates who would be prime repeat candidate for Human Mosquito of the Year. That is, if he were on the opposing team. If he were on your team, you’d love him like you love your own.
And while I didn’t see this at the game, I found this beauty online:
A simple Google search will turn up plenty of delicate, endearing morsels such as these. Go on. Google “F*ck the Habs”. I dare ya.
Suffice to say – the fans have turned the opposition to the opposition team into a work of art. “Flames suck!” doesn’t cut it. But “Sedins Sisters: Two Girls, No Cup”? Hey, let’s give them credit for being outright cheeky about it:
4) The dress code
At Canucks games, I almost feel like I’m at the opera. Everyone’s so exquisitely dressed. The women are in high heels and tight feminine Canucks “sweaters”. While there’s no doubt versions of these for every NHL team across the continent, I didn’t see anything like it at the Bruins-Habs games. And at risk of causing offence to female Canucks fans – who are without doubt just as voracious in loyalty and support to their team as their male counterparts – it seemed that the female fans at the Habs-Bruins game were just as insane as any man in the arena. Just as loud. Just as rabid for Habs’ blood. Real fans, these. They were there because they really wanted to be, not because their husband/boyfriend/other were taking them to the game just to impress them.
And their dress style? No high heels in sight. Just good old sneakers, a standard, ugly hockey sweater, and a beer in their hand. And the person I saw wearing the “Subban is a bitch” shirt was a woman, too.
And the men? No Polo shirts here, friends. No Abercrombie & Fitch, fellas. Cellphones stayed in their pockets for much of the game, too, which also impressed me. Strict jeans, hoodies, ballcaps and eighteen-o’clock shadow for these Bruins fans here.
5) The real presence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at home
Wait, what does that have to do with the game? Well, I just found it interesting.
Seems that a few soldiers were at the game, and midway through the evening, time came to pay tribute to them and others in service around the world. Many, many people stood up and applauded, as per the dictum that it’s not a political thing but rather to support the troops. I noticed the guy next to me didn’t stand up. He saw that I noticed, and boldly stated: “I’m not gonna show my support for someone else’s war.” And then liberally tossed about a few F-bombs in regards to the United States’ presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. I shook his hand and told him I was from Canada and that I understood.
Whelp, that’s all. The long and short of it is: what a great experience. Call it a shameless indulgence of a novelty experience if you will – but hey, if it’s shameless, that means there’s no shame in it.
And don’t worry, Canucks fans. I’m still a blue-and-green man. Really.