The Stanley Cup has been awarded, the (boat) parade has been completed and most folks are just ready to move on. A big part of these playoffs was the Cinderella run by the Montreal Canadiens and the distinct divide between those who hated it and those who embraced it. I won’t pretend was one right opinion but, as a Sens fan, it wasn’t easy being one of the few who “embraced” it. After all the dust has cleared, I wanted to explain why I ended up pulling for one of the Ottawa Senators’ biggest rivals.
Playoff bandwagons are a funny thing, we all love to choose a side as much as we say “oh, as long as it’s a good series, I don’t care who wins.” It’s just more fun to have a rooting interest and every bandwagon story is different. For me, there are teams I would absolutely not bandwagon on unless I hated their opponents more and that list historically included the Habs. Round 1 began with the worst case scenario for Sens where one of the Leafs or Habs would advance. It ended up being the best series to watch as we got to see a Leafs meltdown and were assured the Habs wouldn’t advance past the mighty Jets. I will admit, at this point I was relieved the Leafs were out but was more than ready to see the Habs tossed out as well. It wasn’t until Game 3 against Winnipeg where I started to get drawn to the Habs’ wagon. Specifically, I found myself enjoying Carey Price’s play, and the resulting adulation. It was nice to see one of my favourite goalies finally seeing some sustained play-off success and people really noticing it and for that I was ready to slightly let go of my grudges and respect what the Habs had been doing so far. That and I have a deep, deep-seated dislike of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Then came the Stanley Cup Final. A perfect championship team versus a team that limped into the playoffs and somehow did the improbable. At this point, I was ok with either result but felt a Habs win is a better story for hockey in general. Some people will disagree as the notion of “skilled teams should always win” prevails but I don’t necessarily agree that should always be the case. So let’s breakdown why in detail all the reasons I chose to root for a Habs win and whether I would do it again:
- It all started with Carey Price, I’ve long been a fan and it bothered me that he played on a rival. It always seemed that I didn’t need to cheer him on much because his team made sure he never was able to get far but this time was different. Not only were the Habs doing well, it was mostly all because of Price — this was HIS journey and it would have been his glory at the end. He turns 34 this summer and while goalies can have a longer shelf-life, it’s not hard to imagine this would have been his last, best shot.
- In the immediate lead-up to the Stanley Cup Final, we were witness to another chapter in a long on-going tragedy for our Indigenous people. Price is one of the NHLers with the most immediate connection to the Indigenous community, and though his winning the Cup wouldn’t have solved any real problems the symbolism did touch me. It felt like a potential opportunity to celebrate amid much darkness.
- I’m not a big fan of repeat champions. In recent years the Blackhawks and Penguins have captured three titles, the LA Kings grabbed two, and now Tampa Bay prevails twice in a span of 10 months. I much prefer to see fresh faces, different storylines and fans of other teams are tired of wondering whether they even have a chance.
- The team that spends the most shouldn’t always win. Yes, I am a Sens fan and so a product of a broke owner but that’s not the entirety of the argument. Is it really that good for the game if we’re basically saying that a small market team or a team that doesn’t have the resources to overspend on the most talented players in the league should never have a chance? Yes, in many ways the Bolts truly deserved to win the Cup but I wanted to see the upset that taught kids that sometimes the smaller guy can win (figuratively and literally speaking). Upsets are a reminder that there’s still some magic left in the game. That notion somehow faded for me after the 2017 run and everything that followed; in some ways a Habs miracle run harkened back to that time.
- Luke Richardson was a big part of getting the Habs through the Golden Knights and he deserved a better fate. I always enjoyed his time in Ottawa and I think one day he could make a good head coach, I’m glad he and his family got to celebrate this journey and hopefully it opens a world of other opportunities for him.
- I also am not above admitting to a bit of pettiness: I do get jealous of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They got Victor Hedman and managed to not mess up his development or his entire career. But more importantly, they entered the league with the Sens and since then they have had 3 Cups while the Sens still struggle to find an owner that doesn’t regularly threaten to relocate the team. It just doesn’t seem fair and I’m getting annoyed with how well they’ve done so far.
- Habs fans can be annoying and insufferable but unlike Leafs fans, they actually do get better when they’re winning. That not it though, Nikita Kucherov had just won his second Stanley Cup in 10 months and somehow in his first post-win conference, his big topic of discussion was to “mock” Habs fan for being too passionate. I have nothing against what he said because it was funny and he was trying to stir the pot which isn’t always bad to watch. My point is, Habs fans may be annoying but they live for their team. Kucherov noticed how much they celebrated their team after 1 game and it seems to have bothered him — why? It’s fun playing for a fanbase that cares so much, it’s tough when things aren’t going well but when they are, you get pure chaos and players have to enjoy being part of that atmosphere. Wins become more meaningful and championships more heroic. That boat parade was ok but I was kind of excited to see the extreme insanity that would have happened in Montreal had they won the Cup. This isn’t a knock on the Bolts fanbase since I barely know any of them but in my opinion, this would have meant a lot more to Habs fans than it does to those in Tampa.
I think the Habs playing the two teams I hate the most (Leafs, Golden Knights) played a huge role in why it didn’t feel so wrong to root for them even though I still highly dislike 95% of their roster. I know some Sens fans were absolutely against any form of the Habs winning and that is probably the take that makes more sense. I can’t imagine any viable reason for cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs even if it meant a Cup for Jason Spezza and the same applies to majority of the Sens fans when it comes to the Habs. This season, something just felt ok with the Habs winning and personally as a hockey fan first, I didn’t feel guilty about it. Would I do it again? If Price was still playing and the opponent was the Knights or some other horrible team, maybe but honestly, I doubt I’ll ever view the Habs the way I did the past few weeks.
I guess nature is healing.