Special to All Habs Hockey Magazine
‘1993’ is a short story by S.L. Dixon about a young Habs fan living in Leafs country. Dixon is a life-long Canadiens’ fan currently living in Ontario. He holds a college diploma in print-journalism, but focuses mainly on fiction writing. He can be found on Twitter @SLDixon1 .
by S.L. Dixon
For most, a first day of school means the end of freedom, a reminder of social inadequacies and a rebirth into a horrifying world of essential bravado. For some others, a first day of school means a reclaiming of the throne and an opportunity to cast out all who are different; in the case of Nicholas Anderson the aforementioned reigned true. September 2nd, 1992 marked the first day of school.
The morning air was clear and fresh as Nicholas waited at the end of his driveway for the long yellow bus to arrive. An air of uneasiness rested in his soul, for the first time in his life he decided to follow his heart and go against popular tradition. Although the weather was nice, he chose to wear a sweater to cover his dark secret. Nicholas lived in a small farming community in mid-western Ontario, Toronto Maple Leaf country. He tried on many occasions, to stray from his forbidden love but could not. He was a Canadiens fan to the very core of his being and this was his secret.
One week prior to the first day of school, Nicholas enjoyed his seventh birthday and received a fine bounty of gifts, all relating to his secret passion. His parents bought him Habs shoes, a Habs winter jacket and a Habs t-shirt. His grandparents bought him a Habs wallet and a Habs hat and his aunts and uncles showered him with a plethora of Habs knick-knacks. Only one problem stood in the way of Nicholas’ happiness, the pedagogical social ranking system. Nicholas dwelled very near the bottom and risked losing ground if he did not cheer for the Leafs. The air grew dense and hot that first day of school, forcing Nicholas to remove his sweater and admit his love. His classmates were ruthless in their insults. Everywhere he turned that day wretched comments found their way to his ears and Nicholas spent the day on the verge of tears. Nicholas put his sweater back on, his body drenched in sweat, and spent the remainder of the day angry with himself. Why couldn’t he love like everyone else did? Why did he have to feel such a way about something everyone saw as wrong? Weeks passed and Nicholas fought off all urges to don his Habs apparel.
The early part of the first month of the Canadiens’ season made it easier for Nicholas to avoid temptation to show his pride as a Canadiens’ fan. By the tenth game, however, his passion began stirring and burning once again in his heart. By Christmas, the Canadiens held a respectable record, inching closer and closer to .600. Nicholas decided to forge through the hatred and be himself at all cost to his social standing.
Once school started again, Nicholas wore his Habs apparel proudly; his parents had even purchased some Canadiens’ books for him as a Christmas gift. On January 4th, 1993 stood a proud unwavering Nicholas, ready to take any assault directed in his way. He stepped on to the long yellow bus, his body a red and blue beacon of strength, waiting for the first comments to arise. He hadn’t long to wait, from the left and right verbal abuse began. It was only days after school began (and Nicholas coming out as a true fan) when the Leafs faced-off against the Habs on Hockey Night in Canada. It was yet another blow to the poor boy, the Leafs claimed victory. Nicholas sat shaken, but never gave up. He wore his coat, his hat and his boots that following Monday. His classmates reminded him throughout the day of the 5-4 loss and began exaggerated tales of the greatness of Felix Potvin and Doug Gilmour.
Nicholas’ social standing rested only above the children of welfare parents and some of those children even poked fun at him. Nicholas couldn’t understand all of the hatred, as it wasn’t a choice he made, but it was who he was. He grew furious with all of his classmates and bus mates. Eventually he defended his team with assaults on the Leafs but this only made things worse.
One day in mid-February, on the school bus, Nicholas chose to defend the Canadiens with an assault on the Maple Leafs. A much older and larger student took great exception and pulled Nicholas’ hat from his head and put it the garbage located at the rear of the bus. Nicholas angrily attempted to retrieve the hat, but quickly found a new seat on the floor with the thick black bus mud. The students all laughed at poor Nicholas. The laughter seemed to fuel the cruelness of the older boy. By way of physical force, Nicholas spent the entire ride crouched on the floor in between seats of the bus; laughter continued to roar through the bus. Nobody wanted to be the one to help a Habs fan, so even the sympathetic looked on feigning laughter.
One would think that this treatment could sway anyone from following his heart, but not Nicholas. For the remainder of the cold winter weather he donned his blackened coat and his dirty boats, he refused to give up to those evil boys. As soon as the snow melted away, Nicholas sported his Habs shoes and t-shirt as a badge of honor. Abuse continued. Once, Nicholas had even been on the receiving end of a teacher’s quip.
“Maybe you’d run faster if you didn’t have such a trash team weighing down your feet,” laughed Nicholas’ physical education teacher.
There was no way to get away from the Leafs fans, they were everywhere and all carried a negative attitude toward Nicholas and the Canadiens.
Over the next few weeks the regular season came to a close and the Canadiens finished third in the Adams Division and sixth overall in the league. The league standings gave Nicholas the extra push he needed to continue on with his passion. The first round of the playoffs began with the Quebec Nordiques. This spawned a new line of comments: “Ron Hextall will punch Patrick Roy so hard his head will fly off” and “Montreal will only beat Quebec if Joe Sakic scores all the goals for them.” It seemed a never ending torment for Nicholas, but his faith was rewarded with four straight wins after losing the first two games. The Habs moved on to Buffalo, unfortunately for Nicholas, the Leafs surged forward as well.
The comments toward Nicholas about the great Sabres were short lived as the Canadiens ended their season with a series sweep. The fire in Nicholas soul burned hotter and hotter with every game, but so did all the harsh comments. Next on the menu for Montreal were the Islanders and luckily for Nicholas, New York lacked individual superstars and worked as a team, making it much more difficult to find heroes to destroy the Canadiens. After five games, the Islanders traded in their hockey sticks for golf clubs and it was up to the Leafs or the Kings to defeat the Canadiens.
After a missed high sticking call in overtime of game six and game-winning goal by the culprit, the Leafs versus Kings Series headed for a game seven. A virtual sea of blue and white covered the student body as well as the faculty at Nicholas’ school. The abuse hit its peak. Nicholas took verbal and physical assaults like he’d never faced in his young life.
Horror and doubt briefly entered Nicholas’ mind.
“What if the Leafs won and then beat the Canadiens in the final?” he thought to himself. “Could the universe really be that cruel?”
The answer was a firm no as the Kings defeated the Leafs and went on to face the Habs. It had now become a mission of every Leaf fan to mentally will the Kings to win. Wayne Gretzky provided the energy to encourage the hatred of Nicholas and his team. After the loss in game one, Nicholas faced a barrage of hatred and could feel most of the community against him. It was no longer an issue of social standing within the school; the small world Nicholas knew hated him. Nicholas pressed on and so did the Canadiens: victory in game five.
On the morning of June 9th, 1993, Nicholas waited as he had at the end of his driveway, half expecting the bus driver to angrily ‘forget’ to pick him up, but the long yellow bus pulled up and stopped. Nicholas, absolutely beaming, appeared to float above his bus mates on a cloud of satisfaction. Everyone sat with their faces pointed at the floor, none wanting to make eye contact with Nicholas, for if they had, they would witness a boy who might as well have won the Stanley Cup himself. The remaining months of the school year flew by without abuse and the summer arrived.
Nicholas spent the summer reliving the heroics of John LeClair, Paul DiPietro and Roy on his driveway with the neighborhood children. The summer seemed short, as they tend to and Nicholas waited for the school bus at the end of his driveway. Nicholas realized that his bus mates and classmates would carry a shorter memory than he did and he readied himself for another onslaught of abuse. To the great surprise of Nicholas, many of his former abusers wore the colours red and blue rather than blue and white. Loving the Canadiens was no longer a taboo issue and Nicholas could be free to love without ridicule or torment.