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.