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Smoked Meat Diaries #6: To You From Failing Hands...

Posted by Will / April 28, 2009

20090428-habslastgame.jpgThe final horn signalled the end of the game. The Montreal Canadiens had just lost to the Boston Bruins in four straight games to be eliminated from the 2009 NHL playoffs. I sat slumped in my seat in Section 330, Row C of the Bell Centre for several minutes, surveying the situation. A quarter of the spectators had already evacuated the building - most of them disillusioned boo birds who did not respond well to the poor performance of the home team. Their jeers and catcalls earlier in the game were an embarrassing display by unrealistic supporters who expected far too much from the injury-plagued Canadiens. Down on the ice, the teams exchanged handshakes, congratulating each other on a hard-fought series despite the mounting vials of bad blood that collected over the series. The remaining fans in the Bell Centre, realizing the impossibility of the task they had demanded of their team, relented and gave the dejected Canadiens a standing ovation. After a brief salute to their devoted supporters, the players left the ice surface, retreating to their dressing room. And that was that. The 100th Season of the Montreal Canadiens, the most storied franchise in professional sports, had officially come to an end.

Attending a playoff game in Montreal was a childhood dream come true. Since becoming one of the Canadiens' faithful at the tender age of five, I was at odds with my chums back home in Manitoba who preferred the local Winnipeg Jets. While they covered their bedroom walls with posters of Dale Hawerchuk and Pokey Reddick, I hung up pictures of Patrick Roy and my all-time hero, Mats Naslund. My obsession with the Canadiens bordered on sickness as I loyally supported them from afar over the years. But nothing could prepare me for the Habs-fever I would experience upon moving to Montreal. And sitting among of ravenous crowd of Canadiens fans at a home game in the playoffs truly was a fantasy playing out right before my eyes. Unfortunately, it had to be a game they lost to finish off their season. I had always wondered what it would feel like be a part of a live crowd enduring the gut-wrenching disappointment of their team's demise. Now I knew - it hurt. It hurt real bad.

Let the grieving begin...

Kubler-Ross theorized that we progress through five stages when dealing with loss:

1) Denial: My entire body was numb as I leaned over a rail in the upper level of the Bell Centre. I stared across at the final score on the Jumbotron, stuck in a trance as though, if I concentrated hard enough, I could switch the "1" of the Canadiens with the "4" of the Bruins. It didn't work. This could not be happening. There must be some kind of mistake. They could not lose the series. Isn't there a consolation round or a B-side or something? It could not end; not like this. There had to be more Canadiens hockey. When do tickets go on sale for the next game?

20090428-bellcentre.jpg2) Anger: Why us? This is some bullshit right here. It's not even fair. How were the Canadiens expected to compete with so many players injured? Markov, Lang, Tanguay, Schneider, Brisebois, Bouillon. It's absurd. They had to call up so many players from the minors to fill in that Bob Gainey called ME up to play (I politely declined - pulled a hammy the night before). They should have at least been given a couple of weeks to recover before starting the series with so many players injured. NOT FAIR! At the very least they needed Markov - every successful playoff team needs an all-star defenseman. At one point they put Kovalev on the point during a power play. You know you're out of ideas when you put Kovalev in a defensive position. The man is a brilliant puck handler and I idolize the guy, but the only back-checking he's ever done involved examining his posterior in a two-way mirror for misshapen moles. The last place he should be is on defence. And they ought to figure out whether there are grounds for disqualifying Boston for using ineligible players. I mean, Zdeno Chara - is that guy even human? He's like 7-and-a-half feet tall and he's incapable of human emotion. He has that one creepy facial expression - a vacant, detached stare reminiscent of Drago in Rocky IV ("If he dies, he dies"). I'm convinced he's an intergalactic alien from a planet that harvests freak superathletes. Consider his name - "Zdeno" - clearly that's made-up. The person responsible for creating the identities of these hockey aliens just mashed the keyboard and said, "You will be known as Z--, Zed-Dee, Zuh...Hmmm, the letters 'Z' and 'D' don't really go together, do they? Ah well, no one will notice once they see your slap shot. You'll find your stick and equipment in Sector 2. Manute Bol will show you the way." Bullshit.

3) Bargaining: Okay, okay, okay. Let's talk about this. What if we let the Habs play one more game, winner-take-all against the Bruins? If the Canadiens lose, they have to give up one player of the Bruins' choosing. That way there is some incentive for the Bruins to play. I think they might go for it. Seriously, this could work. If I could just get a hold of Bob Gainey, he could call Claude Julien, and they can schedule a rematch. What else are the Bruins going to do with their time off anyway? Go to Chuck-E-Cheese? Eat some pizza? Play in the ball pit? Give me a break - let's play some hockey! Just give them one more chance!

4) Depression: Ughhh. Ever have one of those days where you just want to stay in bed? You wake up in the morning and for a moment you feel fine. But then a split second later you remember that something monumentally shitty happened the night before and that pukey feeling begins to emerge in the pit of your stomach and the full realization blasts through your body like a lightning bolt of influenza. So you call in sick to work, and you bury your head under the covers, and you eat three bags of all-dressed chips, and you hammer down a fifth of vodka with peach-flavoured Crystal Lite ice-tea because it's the only mixer left in the house, and you can't help but think, "What's the point?" and you get the bottle of Percocet and you chase down a couple of tablets with a shot of whiskey as you ask yourself, "Why couldn't Carey Price just hold it together for one game? I know he's still young, but god damn. He couldn't stop traffic with a 10-car pileup." (For the record, the kid's got moxie and people need to give him a break - he'll bring home the Cup in time).

20090428-habsmerci.JPG5) Acceptance: Some things are just not meant to be. One thing is for certain, this hockey season was unforgettable. It was my first season living in Montreal. Being a Habs fan in this city is something that cannot be described. I became entrenched in the passionate hopes of a community that sees Les Canadiens more as a religion than a hockey team. There is no other place on Earth where so many people live and die with the fortunes and failures of the local sports team. The season was an emotional rollercoaster filled with plenty of devastating downfalls and marvellous miracles. And that's what puts faith in the faithful - those divine moments - those sacramental on-ice ordinances that resonated throughout the streets of Montreal. So many flashes of brilliance and glimpses of greatness that we filed away in our collective cabinet of hope. And when the final bell tolled on April 22, 2009, we had to accept that the thrills and spills of our beloved Tricolore would have to wait until next season. When the post-game numbness subsided and I managed to find my way out of the Bell Centre into the brisk evening air, I glumly shuffled through the disgruntled crowd to the metro. On the ride home I sat amongst a solemn bunch of disappointed Habs fans. Barely a word was spoken, silently paying homage to the fallen heroes. La Belle Fille awaited my return to the apartment, inviting me into her embrace. Without saying a thing, she gave me a reassuring smile that let me know everything was going to be okay. Hope springs eternal. We'll get 'em next year.

Relevant song:
"The Great Escape" by Patrick Watson:
Hey child, things are looking down/ That's okay, you don't need to win anyways/ Don't be afraid, just eat up all the gray/ And it will fade all away/ Don't let yourself fall down.

With the author's own photographs



Margot / June 10, 2009 at 12:29 pm
Comments on this post in an earlier incarnation:

Thanks a lot. I had just about managed to forget about the whole "really? we're out of the playoffs" fiasco. Now you go an remind me about it with this bittersweet sendoff.
Posted by: Jer at April 28, 2009 1:01 PM

Hmmm, looks like someone is still stuck at the "Anger" stage.
(but seriously, sorry for reopening the emotional wounds - it was cathartic for me).
Posted by: Will Shead at April 28, 2009 2:18 PM

hehehe... manute bol.
Posted by: juice at April 28, 2009 10:14 PM
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