On the tail end of a train in Toronto on an early weekend morning in 2006 you could have heard my friend Gia explain to me how to pronounce words to a team that would change my life. “no no no.. It’s LES Habitants DE Montreal.. not LA Habitants Du Montreal.. Say it again” while she was laughing. We had just come back from my first trip to Montreal Quebec. I was just learning about the team I would soon be so passionate about, changing forever my perception of the greatest sport on earth known as hockey.
I first learned about Hockey watching my more affluent friends play on a rink on a “rec” center called Battle Creek in St. Paul Minnesota. This is the same area where my brother and I used to sled when I was around five years old. After observing them awhile I asked my brother “What are they doing?” my brother being quite older would shrug and say to me “It’s called Hockey, and we can’t play because we have no skates”. Coming from a first generation Venezuelan/Native American family who struggled to make ends meet, our only option at the time was baseball and football because the rec center would rent my parents the equipment needed for those sports, but there was no rental for skates, pads, sticks or pucks for kids like us.
Childhood experiences left the impression that hockey was “for someone else”, and that impression stayed and could have resonated with me for a lifetime, if it wasn’t for a chance to visit Canada on business for an extended period.
A good friend and co-worker at the time Gia, who was originally from a suburb right outside of Montreal, invited me for a weekend to visit Montreal. We were working in Toronto at the time and I looked forward to the six-hour drive on a nice weekend.
I never been to Quebec before and loved how passionate she spoke of “Les Canadiens” on the trip up. I was intrigued and asked myself “Is this the same game I remember when I was a kid?” After arriving in Montreal, I remember going to The Forum and learning more about this team known as simply “The Habs”. The center rink with the CH logo to commemorate the Forum’s heritage helped me understand that hockey is more than simply a game it’s a passion. Spending the next couple of days in Montreal, and months later, the passion of the fans and the heritage of the Canadiens fused together with the city resonated with me. I saw people from all walks of life playing hockey. Old, young, black, white whoever could get out there and skate would, and would do so having a big smile on their face.
This wasn’t the game I remember growing up. Watching the excitement of the fans while The Canadiens were up and down the ice, the highs and lows of this three-period game with the excitement of the fans, I couldn’t help but get involved. Being a newbie looking back, it was quite funny. “What the heck is a Saku?” I asked a fan once. I couldn’t help but look closer at the TV, like a child trying to figure out a mystery, I grew more and more intrigued about this game. And that curiosity soon blossomed into full on passion.
Coming back to Minnesota I held close to my heart those experiences and couldn’t wait for the next NHL season. Summers seemed to last longer then normal so I took up finally trying to learn how to skate. I soon got married and had a little boy. For encouragement before we left to the hospital when my wife was having contractions, I quickly changed into my Habs jersey for good luck. My boy came home in a Habs outfit a couple days later. That same boy a year and a half later got to be lifted in the air and hang out with PK Subban, Lars Eller and Aaron Palushaj last Sunday for a brief moment when the Canadiens visited St. Paul. I catch a few Wild games when the Habs are off on a break donning my dusty Canadiens hat. A Wild fan once looked me up and down at a game and shouted “Go Wild”, I followed up with a very loud “GO HABS GO!!” Go Habs Go.
(AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)