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Posted: Friday January 23, 2009 12:12PM; Updated: Friday January 23, 2009 6:43PM
Michael Farber Michael Farber >

This city is hockey (cont.)

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Fans in Montreal love their Canadiens, even if the players don't speak French.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

There was a time when every boy who grew up in this city (indeed, in the entire province of Quebec) dreamed of wearing that tri-colored sweater, but time, money and the entry draft have tempered those aspirations. Neither Luongo nor New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur have felt unfulfilled because they had to walk to the visitor's dressing room when they entered the old Forum or now the new Forum. The chain of local heroes that linked one generation to the next -- Rocket to Béliveau to Lafleur to Roy -- was broken 13 years ago when GM Réjean Houle shipped Roy to Colorado, leaving the team bereft of a Quebec-born star. (José Théodore's Hart Trophy season of 2001-02 was merely a tease.)

And while occasionally some in the crowd do demographic counts and grumble when the Canadiens seem a quart low on French Canadiens, no one here seemed to note that Montreal is without a French-speaking goalie for perhaps for the first time ever since Cristobal Huet was traded to Washington in 2008. (Yes, Huet's from France, not Quebec. And your point?) Indeed, fans this season had no trouble stuffing the electronic ballot boxes for Carey Price until the cuticles bled, making sure the goalie was one of four Canadiens who made it into the starting lineup on Sunday.

For many of you, this shameless support for Montreal players was a black mark against the supposedly hockey-savvy fans here. That's one way to look at it. And while it would have been swell to see Alex Ovechkin out for the opening faceoff on Sunday night -- the Capitals star says Montreal is his favorite hockey city -- the wonky voting simply was a reflection of loyalty. As Canadiens Hall of Fame left winger Steve Shutt used to say, "The fans are behind you, win or tie."

That's fair. There were, and are, standards, even if a 15-year hiatus without a Stanley Cup has lowered them slightly. Still, if you were going to extract the glory from Les Glorieux as a player, you were expected to perform at a level that ranged between excellent and august. The Cup was a birthright, allowing the subsequent parade, as former mayor Jean Drapeau once famously announced in a press release, to take place along the "usual" route.

The Canadiens have won 24 Cups -- 23 since the formation of the NHL -- which means all the years Montreal didn't win the Cup somehow seem like mistakes. Like a museum that will send a prized collection of Impressionist art on a global tour, the Cup is always expected to return home. And as Montreal hosts All-Star weekend as part of the centennial fluff, this is where you belong.

(Actually my favorite event on the Canadiens calendar is the April 2 concert at the arena given by Kent Nagano and the celebrated Montreal Symphony Orchestra as you don't often get to hear somebody else tooting the Canadiens' horn for them.)

There are two to four inches of snow expected on Friday and the forecast for game day is minus-18 Celsius, which is around two below in your Fahrenheit. (This is before any "wind factor." In Montreal, we don't trot out modifiers to prove how lousy our winter weather is. There's no need for embellishment.) If you're looking for good cheap meals this weekend, try the cafeteria-style Italian Rotisserie on Ste. Catherine St., not far from the site of the old Forum, or the Hong Kong on St. Lawrence Boulevard. If you are looking for something expense-account fancy, check with the hotel concierge because Montreal has move overpriced and over-praised restaurants than any city in North America.

And when you are coming back from dinner or negotiating our icy sidewalks on the way to the arena, remember that while we are forbidden to turn right on a red light, that doesn't mean someone won't go straight through one.

More Canadiens

GALLERY: Legendary Canadiens players

FARBER: Keepers of the Flame


The Prewar Years

The Postwar Years

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s and 90s

The 2000s and beyond

WEIGH IN: Which is hockey's lifeblood: Montreal or Detroit?

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