I, for one, am ecstatic that Bruins season is finally about to start.
Look, unlike other sports columnists around town who’ll say whatever it is they think you want to hear in order to get into your literary pants, I want our relationship to be built entirely on trust. So I won’t lie to you — I barely follow the NHL season. I like the Bruins. I’ve got a lot of puckhead buddies who hang on every game, so I’m happy when they’re doing well. But life is too short to watch games against Phoenix and Columbus during a regular season when they give out playoff spots like trophies at the Cub Scouts' Pinewood Derby.
I admit that makes me a pink-hatter. I’ll cop a plea on that and throw myself on the mercy of the court.
But that all changes this week, because Montreal is coming to town. This is where the fun begins, and it couldn’t be setting up any better. There are 10 or so games left, so they’re actually starting to count. The Bruins and Canadiens are fighting for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. There’s some bad blood between the two teams that’s so fresh it hasn’t even dried yet.
It’s perfect. And enough to make even the most casual, semi-apathetic, occasional hockey almost-fan like me tune in because it’ll have more story lines and subplots, vendettas and revenge than 10 Telemundo soap operas.
But for me the real draw, the thing that will get my perfectly toned Irish ass away from an all new “30 Rock” and in front of hockey on a Thursday night, will be the same thing it is for any Bruins-Habs game: Montreal fans. For some reason, I just can never get enough of those silly, baguette-eating, broken-French-speaking nutjobs, and I never could.
With all the success Boston has had, we’ve got rival fans up the ying-yang (and you know how painful that can be). Fans from all across the spectrum. From the obnoxious, abrasive Yankees fan on one end to the insufferable vacuousness of the Lakers fan on the other, and everything in between. And I can handle them all.
But there’s just something hilariously comical about Canadiens fans. Some of the other rival fans I mentioned aren’t so different than Boston fans. I could make a case that Yankees fans are like how Belloch described himself and Indiana Jones: shadowy reflections of us.
But Montreal fans couldn’t be any more different than the Boston hockey crowd. I’ve always felt that the Bruins had the best fans in the city: smart, savvy, loyal almost to a fault. Predominantly blue collar, immensely fun to watch a game with and not a poser in the bunch. Canadiens fans are the polar opposite. Pretentious, self-important, ultra-serious, effete snobs with a sense of entitlement like Stanley Cups are their birthright. And best of all, they have no idea how ridiculous they are.
That’s why I love them. They’re the perfect comic foil. Canadiens fans are completely un-self-aware of how funny they are. They’re that guy in every sitcom who doesn’t get why everyone derives so much pleasure in giving them crap. They’re the NHL’s Dwight Schrute. They’re the butler in “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Add a fat kid and some sex jokes to the Boston-Montreal metaphor and you could make “Two and a Half Hockey Fans” with them as Jon Cryer.
I mean, I’ll admit, it hasn’t always been easy to laugh at them. Growing up a Bruins fan (more so then than now, obviously) in the shadows of the great Canadiens teams was no box of chocolates. Nor was listening to their smug, self-satisfaction knowing that the whole “dynasty” thing was a sham given that the Habs had right of first refusal on all French-Canadian players. Red Auerbach built a real dynasty on a level playing field on a shoestring budget for an owner who didn’t even have an arena. Imagine what Red would’ve done if he had first dibs on every black player in America?
Then, of course, there was the Montreal crowd celebrating diversity and promoting international understanding by booing the American national anthem. Yeah, that was a real chucklefest. But B’s fans got the last laugh by singing the Canadian anthem as if they knew the words or cared. Because that act of taking-the-high-roadism prompted Canadian icon and my personal hero Don Cherry to call Bostonians the greatest people in the world and no doubt made every strip joint bouncer on St. Catherine’s Street cry.
But that’s all in the past. And this year, Canadiens fans have never been unintentionally funnier. Seriously, if they were going for humor, this would be their Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain.” Their hysterical, overreaction to the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty was pure comedy gold, and it only could’ve come from the Quebecois.
Not to rehash old news, but no one in the world was glad to see Pacioretty’s head get snapped against that ... stanchion ... divider ... turnbuckle ... thing. Not even, presumably, Mark Eaton of the Islanders, who took a whack in the back of the head from Pacioretty back in December. Chara apologized immediately after the game, stood on his record of zero suspensions or goonery of any kind in his career, and the league took no action.
But if you’re a fan of Canadiens fans like me, you knew you hadn’t heard the last of it. And they didn’t disappoint. Sure, they could’ve been reasonable. Understood the hit was inadvertent. Maybe questioned the design of a rink that puts reinforced steel bars at head level next to the ice surface. Someone could’ve said, “Why don’t we just put rotating saw blades there or poison-tipped spiked or a lever that when you hit it releases a giant boulder that rolls after you ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ style." (Note: That’s two Indiana Jones references. I’m into the bonus now.) Or just said nothing like they did on the Pacioretty-Eaton hit.
But not the Montrealers. They went into hysterics like the north country Scarlet Pimpernels that they are. A bunch of Marie Antoinettes in flannel and jeans. The police 911 lines (neuf un un?) actually got flooded with calls demanding Chara be arrested. The Montreal police confirmed they ARE investigating it, so I suppose Zdeno should expect a visit from the Mounties or Lt. Horatio LeCaine from “CSI: Quebec” requesting DNA samples and asking him his whereabouts on the night of March 8.
I still can’t decide if it’s more laughable or pathetic, so I’m going with laughable. Up until now, I thought the funniest thing about Canadiens fans was their accent. (And I confess that on several occasions I’ve secretly listened in on their conversations and giggled like a schoolgirl whenever they say “aboot” or “oh-fence” because it is the only accent in the world actually more fun to listen to than Scottish.) But this Chara affair is their crowning achievement.
There’s not another fan base in all of North American sports so delusional, so full of its own sense of self worth that the fans call the cops over something that happened in a game. (Memo to all those who called 911: I’m fairly certain slap-shotting a puck at a guy is illegal, too. The rest of us just know enough to make allowances and leave the phone lines open for fires and such.) Sure, I know bringing criminal charges over what happens on the field/court/ice has been talked about in other places. But to my knowledge Montreal is the only place where such talk has gotten past the political grandstanding stage.
And that’s what I love about Habs fans — they’re not satisfied with just being pompous, arrogant buffoons. They don’t stop until they’re complete laughingstocks, too. And this week they’ll be right here among us, swarming the city in all their red, blue and white sweatered glory. And I while I want to thank them for rekindling my interest in the NHL, I need to thank them even more for the laughs. You guys are the best. Welcome to Boston.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @jerrythornton1