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10-22-2011, 02:33 PM
  #5
Lshap
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Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: Montreal
Country: Canada
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Another old guy here.

I caught the bug at the end of the 60s, at around 7 or 8 years old. My first concept of what a celebrity was -- the coolness of connecting a real person to something important -- was based on the Montreal Canadiens, on their faces, numbers and stats speaking to me from their hockey cards. I collected as many hockey cards as I could afford, each pack costing about 10 cents, I think, praying that among the dumb Philadelphia Flyers or Oakland Seal players there would be at least one Canadien in the pack. But the best thing of all was watching the faces on the cards come to life, watching the games Saturday night on a tiny black & white TV in my basement, hoping my parents would be so distracted they'd let me stay up till the end, all the way to the closing music theme. The games usually ended around 10:30 p.m. (they used to start at 8:00) so when that slower, jazzier version of the HNIC theme played and the closing credits rolled, I knew it was wayyy past my bedtime.

I remember Gump Worsley in nets ("Gump? is that a real name?"), a big kid named Savard the upcoming star on defense and Jean Beliveau our tall, elegant leader up front. Everybody loved Jean, so I did, too. I also liked Dick Duff because I thought of myself as being a pretty good stickhandler, like him. In fact, when I painstakingly coloured blue and white stripes onto my red sweater, the final touch was scrawling Duff's big number 8 on the back. I then proudly walked out of my house towards my friend's place, wearing my makeshift, modern art version of a Canadiens jersey, feeling this glow of pride and expecting neighbours to congratulate me on being part of the team. I remember my friend's mom thinking it was cute; my mom, whose job it was to eventually wash the sweater… not so much.

The first game I ever saw in the old forum was against the Chicago Blackhawks, probably in '69. Funny, I have absolutely no memory of who took me; all I remember were the sights, sounds and smells of the hallowed place. There was something magical, almost painterly, about the scene as I walked from the old corridors into the yawning arena. This wasn't my black & white TV -- this was in huge stark colour! This was real! It was a huge cavernous warehouse with the angular old scoreboard hanging like a blue-grey obelisk and the ice surface a scratchy film of white. There were no ads on the boards, no LED flashing lights, the only colours were the rich reds and blues of my Canadiens skating around in one end, while the clean whites with green and red trim of the Hawks circling in the other, like watching a movie with the screen beneath me. Faces and hair swooshed by, some of them looking just like my hockey cards, none of them in helmets -- still almost a decade in the future. There was Beliveau, handsome and focused, J.C. Tremblay, whose initials sounded cool, Gump's mug in nets, looking a bit younger than his middle-aged face on his card. On the other side, there was Bobby Hull with blond hair flowing, Stan Mikita and, I think, Kenny Wharram, who someone told me was good. I have no memories of who won the game that night, but the images of those human icons skating and banging and shooting from end to end stayed with me. And the smell -- walking out in between periods and being hit with clouds of tobacco smoke and the thick aroma of beer.

Ahhh… the old Montreal Forum. Hard to believe now, in the era of boutique seats and electronic security, but during the 70's you could buy a Standing-Room ticket for about $8 and… well… stand. By the mid-70s I was taking a bus downtown with my friends, buying those cheap Standing-Room tickets and finding a space in the upper corridors of the Forum to watch the Habs. The blue seats. We used to wander the corridors like pre-teen cockroaches, searching for the best vantage points to plant ourselves on a staircase, until an usher told us to go back to the corridor. Then we'd do it again until the game was far enough along so that we were left alone, kids on stairs. Lapointe, Laperriere and Savard were the big guys on D, and a young guy named Lafleur was just coming into his own.

The Forum was always there and the Habs were always winning, as normal and regularly as the coming of the seasons.

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