It’s time for me to make a major confession, as I get set to cover this series between Ottawa and Montreal.
I still keep a Montreal Canadiens fan club card inside my wallet:
There are three things that immediately jump out:
1. The card is slightly tattered and is date-stamped from 1988
2. My middle name is Marc
3. The card is inexplicably pink -- which doesn't seem like a colour you'd expect from a Habs fan card.
I'll get to why I still carry that card around in my wallet at the end of this blog, but what's important here is that I was a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan as a kid. I was born at a time when I was too young to enjoy the Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s. My earliest distinct memory of the Montreal Canadiens is from 1984, when they made a magical run to the Wales Conference finals. They were eventually knocked out by the New York Islanders and if Denis Potvin wasn't so physically intimidating, I would have exacted some revenge for my childhood disappointment while he slept next to me on an airplane.
I still have a grainy VHS tape somewhere in my basement that has Game 6 of the playoff series against Quebec that year. That was the night there were multiple bench-clearing brawls and I remember my mom was upset that my dad and I were watching such a violent hockey game on Good Friday.
My passion for the Montreal Canadiens extended into all aspects of my life. I was such a Mats Naslund fan that I made my parents buy me a Torspo hockey stick -- making me the only kid on our team with such a light and whippy stick from Europe. My bed time would always be extended on nights when the Canadiens were playing, but I think my parents were secretly happy when Brian Skrudland scored that goal nine seconds into overtime against Calgary in the Cup final.
In the late 1980s, my passion became so crazy that I sent away for the fan membership kit. It came with that official card, a team calendar and a player poster. I think I submitted my entry so late that I was stuck with an 8x10 of Mike Lalor, but I didn't care. I was just happy that the Montreal Canadiens technically had my mailing address.
As I moved into high school out in Vancouver, people knew I was a die-hard Montreal fan because I wore the obligatory Habs Starter jacket in the early 1990s. My dad would always buy tickets for every visit the Canadiens made to Vancouver. To this day, meeting Patrick Roy and getting his autograph at the Pacific Coliseum remains one of the all-time highlights of my life. I had a poster that hung over my bed that said "Patrick L'IncROYable". Not surprisingly, I didn't get any action with the girls in high school.
When the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993, it will probably go down as my greatest sports moment as a fan. I watched every one of those playoff games and can still recall all 10 overtime goals scored during that magical run.
I came out to Ottawa to attend journalism school in 1994, with every intention of becoming the visible minority version of Dick Irvin. And with the Montreal Forum just a short drive away, I had a chance to visit the hockey mecca for the first time. I went to the last ever game between the Leafs and Habs at the Montreal Forum and cheered wildly when Pierre Turgeon scored the game winner with one second left on the clock.
In the spring of 1996, the Bell Centre opened and I was able to get tickets to the first ever home playoff game there against the New York Rangers. I didn't care that I had a major journalism exam the next day; I skipped the studying and went to the game because that was my passion in life. (The Habs lost the game and I got a B on the journalism exam. But truth be told, I would have taken a D on that exam if it meant the Habs would have won. My priorities were always in order).
I went through the rest of the 1990s like all other Habs fans. I was frustrated by Patrice Brisebois. I couldn't understand why Brian Savage never scored after November 1st. And I tried to embrace Jocelyn Thibault, Andre Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky, but something just never felt right about that damn trade.
After graduating from journalism school, I ended up working in the media relations department for the Ottawa Senators. And that's where my passion for the Canadiens slowly started to die. I realized that working alongside Daniel Alfredsson could be a pretty cool thing. Jacques Martin used to phone me at 7 a.m. asking for his statistics to be delivered to his office. And I got on Roger Neilson's Christmas card list. Working inside an NHL front office is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
When I flipped sides and joined the media, I could honestly say I was caught in between. I had 22 years of being a Montreal Canadiens fan and two years of working inside the Senators front office. But in all honestly, being torn like that actually helped me make the transition into an objective journalist.
I no longer cheered for the Canadiens in the same way I used to; but I had only been with the Sens for two seasons -- so they weren't completely my team either. As I've been a reporter now for more than a decade, I can honestly say that I cover things without any bias. And yes -- that includes reporting on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now back to that fan card and the reason why I still carry around inside my wallet. It's tucked right next to my NHL media card, which allows me access to any rink in the league. But I don't hang onto it because I still have an emotional tie to the Montreal Canadiens.
I keep that card with me so I remember what it's like to be a fan. Too often, those of us in the media forget what it's like to be passionate about sports, because we're too busy trying to be objective. We forget that we were once fans like 99.9 per cent of the world. It's an absolute privilege for me to this job on a daily basis and I never want to forget that.
As this series gets set to start, I want Habs fans to know that I once cheered for your team with as much passion as anyone else. I want Sens fans to know that I cover your team with that same passion and energy.
And no, I won't be cheering for either side to win. My only hope is that you get a series that you'll get to remember for the rest of your lives.