The Habs: The Pulse of Montréal

(Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

(Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Montréal. One of the oldest cities in Canada. What are the first things that come to mind when one thinks of it?

France?  Partying? The Alouettes? Pierre Elliott Trudeau? Georges St-Pierre?

Nope, probably not. The answer is one of these two things:

Women — and — hockey. More specifically, the Montréal Canadiens.

I am too young to have remembered the Canadiens last Stanley Cup victory back in 1993. However, I do recall quite vividly the magical 2007-2008 season which saw the Habs finish first in the Eastern Conference (albeit probably due to a thrown final game by the Pittsburgh Penguins).

So what is that makes the Canadiens so pivotal, so engrained, so natural and so necessary for Montréal? Well, according to Universite de Montréal professor, Olivier Bauer, the Canadiens are, arguably, a religion. TSN story here & video of Bauer explaining his claim, here.

Just think back to that 2007-2008 season, when it seemed that every time the Canadiens would get a powerplay, the opposing team would already be preparing to clear the puck out of the back of their net.

Think that the Habs were out of it? Think again (Rangers).

It felt so intense to be a Canadiens fan that season because of the passion and love for the team from everyone. It literally felt like when the Habs scored, the entire city was roaring with delight. The Habs mean more than just a normal hockey team. In some ways, they are of religious importance.

The truth is that the team means so much because of its tradition, which includes twenty-four Stanley Cups — the most in the NHL — and because it has done a marvelous job of uniting cultural differences of all kinds throughout Quebec; most notably, the language issue.

When the game starts, it does not matter whether one is black, white, English or French. A Hab fan is a Hab fan.

I know many people who simply need the Habs to succeed. The reason goes far beyond rationality. People need something to believe in, especially in times of suffering. Many, but not all, have stopped believing in their respective religions. There is no one reason for this, but one major one is the desire to fit into a broad, universal identity. Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of something important, special, unique. People want to believe in something of substance, something tangible. Something they can follow on a day-to-day basis, put their faith in and hope that it gives back to them. The Canadiens, whether in times of success, mediocrity, or failure; have given the people that something.

When the Habs lose, it seems as if the city sags to the depths of a near depression. When the team wins, it’s as if everyone just won the lottery. The reason is that many feel like the Canadiens are literally a part of their souls, their identities (almost like cell phones these days). I would be willing to wager decent money that when the Canadiens lose, more people show up late for work in the morning than when the Habs win. Why so? A Habs victory is like a shot of testosterone, along with a couple of amphetamines for one who is an acolyte of the Habs cult. A loss is like a night of drinking because your girl friend just cheated on you.

OK, fine. I may have exaggerated a bit on that one.

When the lockout happened for the second time in eight years, fans simply did not know what to do with themselves. Their alternatives were: NFL, NBA, TV shows, movies, partying, ACTUAL studying, reading or sleeping. All of those are great, but hockey is such a pivotal part of the Montrealer’s routine; it felt, to me anyways, as if there was almost TOO MUCH time.

Now that hockey is back and the Canadiens are WINNING, there is such a positive vibe within the city. It just seems that wherever one goes, there are more smiling people than two months ago.

I know one aspect of Montreal that is smiling: Montreal businesses as a whole, specifically restaurants. Bars and pubs around the city were in limbo during the lockout. Staff was laid off. Vacations were cancelled. People drank less draft beer, that’s for sure.

Even if you are not a member of the Habs cult or don’t care at all about hockey. Just look around you. If your life has not improved since hockey has come back, know that one of your brothers, sisters, friends, cousins, neighbors or enemies is smiling somewhere with or without you.

The Drive for Twenty-Five is Alive. Will you be a part of it?

Go Habs Go

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Follow me on Twitter @JoelGabbayNHL

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