Why A Former Canadiens Fan Turned His Back On The Sport

The article below was written by an Ottawa freelance writer named Buzz Bourdon and appeared in the Ottawa Citizen in 2004. Someone had sent the clipping to me and I’d put it in a book and saved it because for some reason I felt it was worth holding on to. It’s the story of how Bourdon lost his love for hockey, and although I can relate to the six teams, woollen sweaters and playing for hours outdoors, I can’t relate to him dropping hockey so easily because there’s too many teams now and overpaid players. In my mind, Bourdon didn’t really love the Habs and hockey as much as he thought he did. If he had a real love, he wouldn’t have abandoned it decades ago, never to come back again.

He calls it “The Death of Hockey – Why A Former Canadiens Fan Turned His Back On The Sport.” 

We didn’t sport snarling beasts baring their dripping fangs on our chests, we wore thick woollen sweaters, either in the colours of the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Deciding who to cheer for was a decision that lasted a lifetime. You usually made it by age six or seven. Naturally, as the son of two French-Canadians, I chose the Habs.

Clutching our wooden sticks, we couldn’t wait to jump on the ice. Every boy fought to wear the famous Number 9, immortalized by Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull. They were the biggest stars of the National Hockey League’s glorious six-team era, which lasted an all-too-short 25 years, from 1942-67.

Four decades ago, just about every Canadian boy had a passion for hockey. Do the kids of today still live hockey like we did? Do they ignore the biting cold and skate like the wind for hours on an outdoor rink or frozen field? You could pretend to be any player you wanted, even if you always got chosen last for the pickup games. The games went on forever, even when we went home for supper. We bolted down our meals and went right back out again. The ice was waiting.

I learned to love hockey during the 1960’s when my father was in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Life was very different then. No one took weapons to school. Pop stars didn’t sing misanthropic, misogynistic lyrics. There were no drugs in Air Vice Marshall Morfee School at RCAF Staion Greenwood, N.S. We were just nine years old. We looked up to and obeyed our parents, coaches and teachers.

Then as now, Air Force fathers and sons played the game in the Greenwood Gardens. There was no advertising under the ice or on the wooden rink boards. Our parents didn’t curse the referees or assault the coach if their sons didn’t get enough ice time. We were there to have fun.

Hockey was something I could share with my father when he was home. I relished spending time with him because he was away a lot flying as a para-rescue jumper with 103 Rescue Unit. His job was to jump from his aircraft and rescue people lost in the bush. I was proud of my father.

Since I couldn’t skate well or shoot, my father the coach put me at defence where I could do the least damage. We whacked away at the puck and fell down a lot. Staying vertical was a victory and passing the puck successfully brought applause. Goals were scored, even though I don’t think many of us could actually lift the puck off the ice while shooting it.

Despite my singular lack of ability, I had fun, even though I can’t remember scoring a goal or even getting an assist. It didn’t matter since losses were usually forgotten by suppertime. I worshipped Henri Richard, Gump Worsley, Yvan Cournoyer, John Ferguson et al, then in the process of ruling the NHL by winning four Stanley Cups in five years from 1965-69.

My season ended with the annual fathers’ and sons’ banquet. Sisters and mothers weren’t invited, just males of various ages, with an interest in hockey, either as a coach, player or father. Women’s liberation hadn’t arrived in Greenwood yet. I watched enviously as the stars got their trophies. I got a crest.

My love affair with hockey continued after my father retired from the Air Force in 1971. He bought some sewing machines and started repairing hockey equipment in the basement of our house near Montreal. Soon he was asked to start repairing the Canadiens gear. He also manufactured goalie pads for Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent, among others.

The ritual was always the same on the three Saturdays each month the Canadiens played at the Forum. While my father talked pads with the goalies, I took it all in. Imagine being 15 years old and a regular visitor to the dressing room of the Montreal Canadiens. Afterward, my father and I finished our Saturday ritual by eating smoked meat sandwiches and fries at the Forum Restaurant.

My father rarely asked for favours from the Canadiens but in the spring of 1973 he got us seats in the Forum press box for the final game of the season. It wasn’t exactly in the press box because we sat in the catwalk leading to the press box, but still…Frank Mahovlich scored a very pretty goal for the Canadiens and I went home starry-eyed.

Things changed a few years later. I lost interest in hockey and joined the army reserve. My father moved out and I didn’t see him very often. There were no more trips to the Forum. You grow up and the things you loved when you were a kid lose their importance.

I haven’t paid attention to the NHL for 25 years. I detest the vulgar team names, garish uniforms and obnoxious rock music. It’s a spectacle now, not a game. Most of the players are unshaven, grossly-overpaid louts. There are at least 10 too many teams. Who cares about all those American teams? I can’t remember the last time I was on skates. I don’t even own a pair.

I’ll never forgive the Canadiens for deserting the Forum in 1996. Hockey’s shrine was later gutted and turned into a cineplex, the “Pepsi Forum.” Killing time before your movie, you can stand at centre ice, where immortals like Toe Blake, the Rocket, Jean Beliveau and hundreds of others created magic over 72 years. I think it’s the saddest place in Montreal.

18 thoughts on “Why A Former Canadiens Fan Turned His Back On The Sport”

  1. Yikes. I can understand giving up following the NHL, but to give up the game? Come on, that’s ridiculous. The game is not the NHL. The Forum was indeed a Mecca, but all you need is ice and a couple of nets, some skates and a stick and warm clothes. If you can’t enjoy that, I don’t think you actually liked the game, you just liked the celebrity of the sport, or simply the time with your father. Fair enough, but that’s not a love affair with the sport.

    I can relate, I was forced out of minor hockey because I made the difficult choice not to pursue it further when our family was hit with hard times financially. That came at about the same time as the Habs started their decline. I did lose a fair amount of interest, but regained it by simply doing things like skating again when I was older. The love of the game never really left, it was just dormant.

    I love following junior hockey, and really, if I were in a smaller town, I’d follow the team there. And I’d make time to just skate and play with friends. I suggest that this guy really just needs to skate with some friends and family again to truly discover whether he still likes hockey. It doesn’t really matter if he becomes a huge Habs fan again… but it seems ridiculous that he doesn’t even own skates anymore because he doesn’t follow the NHL.

  2. I didn’t read his thesis, but I also more or less abandoned the game for quite a few years. The Habs were a changed team. Even their last two Cup wins were accomplished thru luck and grinding and not beautiful hockey. I suppose that it didn’t help that I lived in a Maple Leaf area and I could seldom catch them on TV. With the New NHL and much elimination of clutching and grabbing, and the rise of the Habs (a couple of years ago), and the Internet, and satellite TV, I came back. For now.

  3. What a load of rubbish!

    Obviously, to some people hockey is a relationship. You can be madly in love with it, but then drop it when it starts behaving how you don’t like.

    I grew up in the 80s and although hockey has changed for the worse since the Flyers and Whalers wore Cooperalls, I still love the game as much as ever.

    I’m as traditionalist as they come – I even hate the term “Original Six” since only one of those teams were in the initial NHL – but no matter how many American teams, no matter how many rule changes, no matter how many hideous third jersies made out of god-knows-what futuristic material… hockey will always be my first love.

    I cannot see ever turning my back on the game.

  4. Saskhab, I’m with you. I believe he never loved hockey, it was just a childhood thing like hide-and-seek. All I know is, I’m 59 years oild and have never stopped loving the Habs and the sport since I could walk. It’s all about his father.

  5. And it’s the same way with me, Bryan. Throw all the crap at me, but I’ll never stop loving the Habs or seeing a great play. Thanks.

  6. With me, Anvilcloud, through all the bullshit in my life, all the lousy jobs and lousy divorce etc., the one thing I have always had is my Habs and hockey. Especially the Habs.

  7. Hey Dennis;Maybe hockey didnt seem the same after his dad moved out,maybe that was a connection to his dad.The way I see it is like this,I hate the way hockey is played now,along the boards and cycling around and around,waiting on the other teams blueline for a pass and 200 penalties a game to increase the scoring so american viewers have something other then watching a baseball game go thirty innings to excite them.The true scope of the way the game was played is gone,no way are all the players totally intrested in winning the stanley cup,but rather how much more they will earn if they do come out on the right side of the final.I love the game of hockey,not the one that changes the ruls to suit the ideas of some of the owners who know nothing of the game itself.

  8. That’s what it is, Derry, it’s about his times with his dad. If he gave up on hockey in about 1980 like he said, he would have turned his back on the Gretzky years and all the other great things that took place.

  9. Obviously being so young i don’t know a whole lot about how hockey used to be. Correct me if i’m wrong but hockey has turned from a game to a business. I’d love to see the “game” but the business is the closest thing to the game as I can possibly get. If you want an example of what the game is/should not be about, check out James Mirtle’s blog. I can’t stand that. I tell my friends all the time that if there were 82 televised games of my favourite lacrosse team, I would not be a hockey fan, only because lacrosse is still a “game”, and not a business (at least not yet).

  10. Hey Dennis, so if I can understand Buzz’s problem, he liked hockey better when half the players could barely skate and the owners would treat their players (even their stars) like garbage. If he is so disconnected with hockey based on the principles that he mentionned, why did he not turned towards the juniors, specially the worlds. No money being made there and the kids are playing their hearts out. Here is a thought, buildings do not last forever. Get over it Buzz. Vulgar team names !!!!!!! Honestly?

  11. Andre: Its those vulgar names like the “Penguins” and the “Ducks”. hahaha

    I love junior hockey, and I love international games, so obviously my favourite is the world juniors. Nobody cares about money, they only care about winning.

    Another terrible thing about todays NHL is the fighting. Apparently it has turned into a strategy. When I play lacrosse (i know, its not hockey), we just wanna win, and if theres a prick thats pissing us off we’ll beat him up, then score a few, but we won’t lookk up his stats on fighting before the game, and we definetly wont ask permission.

    I understand where this guy is coming from in that area, but that shouldn’t make his love for hockey vanish. Maybe the NHL, but not the game itself, thats just ridiculous

  12. Andre and Gillis – He liked hockey only as a childhood thing like tobaggoning ot hide and seek. And it was all about his dad. I’ve heard for years the argument that “I don’t follow hockey anymore. Too many teams.” None of these people were never truly hockey fans. I’m about 10 years older than this guy and my love, especially for the Habs, has never gone away.

  13. Hi Dennis, thanks for the bittersweet post today. So sad that he couldn’t find any joy in hockey. I’m a late comer to the hockey party and love the skill, camraderie and excitment. You are correct that at times, all you have is hockey and your team you support. Go Habs! Go Bruins!

  14. Thanks Diane. He’s missed a lot of good Habs-Bruins games over the years. And there’s still time for you to come over to the Habs side. We’d welcome you with open arms.

  15. Wow what negativity, I agree he probably never really loved the game only the camaraderie and time with his dad. Stuff happens in life and events likely soured his outlook. I am and will always be a Habs fan and my favorite is Yvan Cournoyer and my take on this to take a look at the rich history of the game and its evolution since its beginning. Growing up I savored every game, article or book I came across and trading bubble gum cards of course holds great memories of wonderful childhood friendships. My stepfather was in the Service so we moved a few time but my parents always knew I was safe playing ice or road hockey down the street. I will agree with your wife that this is the best site , in as much as all the ones I’ve run across. Keep up the great work it is most appreciated !

  16. Habba-dabba-doo, thanks a lot. Andf I’m with you. It was all about his dad and friends and being young. But he couldn’t have been a true hockey fan in the true sense of the word. How could he turn his back on it 30 years ago and never come back? Look at all the great things he’s missed. And what does he do instead? Anyway, again, thanks for this.

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