Habs Love from Across the Pond‏

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Picture courtesy of @Habs_Clan

Written by LadyE, AllHabs.net

MONTREAL, QC — Born and raised in Montreal, the Bleu, Blanc, Rouge is in my DNA. Spent many Saturday nights glued in front of the television awaiting “nos glorieux” to hit the ice. So easy to take all of this for granted, living in the Hockey Mecca. It is my life and the lives of many a Montrealer.

Yet many Habs fans do not live in Montreal, the city of the two-cheek kiss.

They, like my friend Tony McColl, live far away. In Tony’s case, he lives across the pond.

Picture courtesy of @Habs_Clan

Tony lives in Scotland, West Lothian to be precise. He was first introduced to “ice hockey” as he calls it, when he was sixteen. A new channel called 5 tried to attract the attention of the American sports fans living in the UK by buying the rights to NHL and NBA games to show through the night.

At that time, the NHL games shown primarily were those of the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But Tony felt no connection or love for either of these teams. All he cared about were the hits and the fights.

Until February 8, 2000. The day his life changed when it came to hockey. That day Channel 5 showed the Montreal Canadiens vs the Edmonton Oilers.

He remembers this game vividly as the opening scene of the programme was a shot of the city skyline, then showing parents walking into the Molson Centre holding their children’s hands. Flags waving, everyone in red, white and blue. To Tony, having grown up with football (soccer), this scene reminded him of Cup finals, not a regular season game. The pre-game announcers had said that this had been a poor season for the Habs. He remembers seeing the teams skating out on the ice, the cameras panning the interior of the Molson Centre, the hometown crowd cheering wildly for their team, supporting their team. This enthusiasm sent shivers down his spine and he knew that these Montreal Canadiens fans were “his people.” He even pointed to his television screen and shouted “you’re awesome” to the fans.

The game ended 5-4 with the Habs losing in overtime.

But that didn’t matter.

Tony was hooked.

He had already decided that if he ever made the trek to North America, that Montreal was the city he wanted to visit.

Picture courtesy of @Habs_Clan

Tony did not have internet at home back then, so he would beg his teacher to stay in the computer labs during his lunch breaks while his friends were outside playing soccer. He did this so he could scour through internet sites for any video clips, news, pictures that he could get his hands on for the Habs and all their games.

Saku Koivu was his first favourite player. He remembers seeing him for the first time and thinking he just looked like a big scary Finnish man. He wore number 11, and in the UK. in soccer, before the days of squad numbers, number 11 was the number everyone wanted. It meant that player was the starting centre forward.

Two weeks after that Oilers-Canadiens matchup, Koivu got into his one and only fight of that season during the game in New Jersey. Koivu, from that point forward, was Tony’s first Habs idol.

In 2004, during the lock-out season, Channel 5 ceased coverage of hockey. Tony did not have Sky TV (satellite TV) so over the next few years, with starting University, working and enjoying life, his hockey viewing decreased immensely.

Once University was finished and he had more free time, he rediscovered the Habs. His love affair with all things Habs came back and it didn’t take long to become addicted to the Canadiens and was soon spending many a late night watching dodgy internet links of the games live.

ESPN then started showing in the UK and with that came ESPN Centre Ice which meant he could watch every Habs game live or on demand.

He was in seventh heaven.

In late October 2011, Tony’s dream came true.

He came to Montreal and met up with many friends he met on Twitter. H also got to see the Habs play at home vs Boston and an away game vs Ottawa. The Canadiens won both games. We dubbed him the Habs good luck charm, because from the moment his plane landed, the Habs started winning their games.

Tony made a lasting impression on me that weekend. While he was here, he totally fell in love with our beautiful city. How could he not?

Tony’s visit and his wonderful story made me realize how we take things for granted. We can go to the Bell Centre, we can go to practice in Brossard, we run into players at restaurants and clubs, we get autographs and we take pictures.

Yet here is Tony, and he walked into the Bell Centre for the first time in his life and got emotional. Went to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and spent hours at the Habs area.

I wonder if people here in Montreal, share that same emotion.

I know I do.

It happens to me everytime I cross the threshold of the Bell Centre.

Why?

Because seeing my CH-wearing-heroes will always be a thrill.

My heart skips a beat and I get excited.

The Bleu Blanc Rouge courses through my veins and I am proud, and I know that Tony feels the same.

 

You can follow Tony on twitter @Habs_Clan

5 COMMENTS

  1. Your story about Tony was great to read – As a fellow long term Habs devotee living in the UK, it has been a struggle to follow my beloved team but always worth the effort!

    My love affair with the team began in 1992 when they played an exhibition tournament at Wembly arena in London against the Blackhawks. I had been introduced to Hockey earlier that year when I was amazed at the skill and passion of the Canadian Hockey team at the winter olympics and the play of Sean Burke in net opened my eyes to the awesome skills of a goaltender. It is true to say that in the UK to most “sport” means football (soccer) but seing these hockey players made me realise just how much more exciting hockey was. So it was natural for me see Patrick Roy as the only player to watch and his team the only NHL team for me. With no UK coverage and no internet at the time, I had to resort to ordering VHS tapes from a guy in Canada who recorded habs games and sent them to the UK and I have vivid memories of watching the 1993 cup victory over the Kings about 3 months after it happened as the post took so long!

    Your comments about channel 5 were spot on and through the late 90’s I managed to get snatches of habs games and it has only been recently through ESPN (although they let us down this season by not showing any NHL) and new channel Premier sports that I have been able to watch my beloved team regularly. Even through the pain of this season I get up at about 5 in the morning to watch the habs play and the excitement that I feel when I see that shirt could never be matched by any other team in any other sport.

    Last week I took my son to his swimming lessons and was amazed when this guy came up to me (having seen the Habs sticker in the back of my car) and introduced himself as a long time Habs fan too. We both said how our hopes had been dashed this season but know that 2012/13 will be a year for re building and we will become a contender once again.

    Even this far away across the pond, the class of the city of Montreal, the people and of course the team shine like a beacon. The passion and pride of the city means that the Habs could be the only team that ever matters and I know that the young guns – Price, PK, MaxPac, Eller, DD , LL and Geoffrion will see the glory days back again soon.

    The Habs are the only team that matters and it’s great to hear that there are fans around the world who know it!

  2. Good story. We are also across the pond and follow our beloved Habs from a distance, but religiously. This means staying up late nights (or rather, early mornings) to watch games, proudly wearing CH gear at every opportunity and heckling the few Leafs or Bruins baseball cap wearers who appear in and around London from time to time (my son hates when I do that).

  3. WOW! I’m lost for words. What an amazing story about a real Habs fan.This brought tears to my eyes no honestly I’m crying reading this about Tony. I got the chance to meet this amazing man and other great people that weekend. I feel blessed to say I just didn’t meet other fans by a new family.
    You rock lady!

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