Column by Nicco Gentile
In a city where there is always something happening, this time of year has something different to offer.
Montreal, Quebec. Home of the Montreal Canadiens and the most extreme hockey fans. Montreal takes its hockey seriously - it's practically a religion.
The NHL playoffs are in the middle of the second round and one of the oldest rivalries in hockey is taking place: Montreal vs. Boston. A simple walk through the streets of downtown Montreal would unveil a deep passion and connection to the city's hockey team.
It gets cold in here in Montreal - real cold - and hockey is a way of life around these parts. The city's love affair with hockey dates back to 1909, when the team was part of the original six hockey teams that formed what was the NHL.
During the playoffs, Montreal has a different character or feel. This city loves the Canadiens - actually, love isn't a strong enough word. The Canadiens make this city; when they are playing well, the city is energized. When they aren't playing well, don't expect any smiling faces.
Quebec has been the center for language wars as of late. French speakers are upset with English speakers because of what language is spoken. Opposing government parties have been at each other's throat for the longest time because of this. But when the playoffs role around, and the Canadiens are contending, the city automatically forgets about the divide between English and French. At this point, we are all just fans, cheering for the same team, and it makes sense in either language. Hockey connects this province because, no matter what language is spoken, everyone is still rooting for the Habs.
There's a tradition in Montreal when the Canadiens are in the playoffs. You're supposed to grab your friends, head to a nearby bar, order a few pitchers of Molson Canadian and proceed to shout obnoxiously at the huge, flat-screen TV until the Canadiens win. It's a demanding environment, to say the least.
The media is also pretty demanding of the team, and no player is safe from extreme criticism. If a player isn't doing his job or playing well enough, he'll have an entire city on his back scrutinizing his every move up until he starts to play well again.
This city is a coach's nightmare, too. Everyone has an opinion and feels like they could do a better job coaching, which can make an already stressful job even harder for the brave few who assume the position of head coach here in Montreal.
Still, this city has the best fans in the world, in my opinion. The Canadiens are our team. They belong to the fans. The vibe here has been amazing, and it seems like every car has a Canadiens hockey flag flying from its window.
The team got through the first round with ease, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games. The Habs currently have a one game lead over the Boston Bruins and play tomorrow here in Montreal at the Bell Center. Expect the city to be crazy and the fans to be watching.
As they say here in Montreal, "Go, Habs, Go."