Despite my Canadian citizenship, I will admit to not being much of a hockey-watcher. The regular NHL season does pretty much nothing for me, possibly because the roster is full of teams I've ever neither heard of (the Coyotes? the Ducks? These are hockey teams?) or don't really care about (sorry, Canucks—by the time you entered the league, my allegiances were set. I wish I could love you, but I don't).
But watching the Montreal Canadiens pound the snot out of the Penguins the other night stirred up some memories for me. For some reason, I kept hearing Danny Gallivan's nasal, hyperbolic descriptions above the drone of the actual play-by-play announcer; and a couple of times I could have sworn I saw "le gros Bill" Beliveau leaping over the boards, striding down the ice like he owned it.
When I was growing up in Victoria, Saturday nights were sacrosanct in our house: right after supper, we kids would huddle around the black-and-white TV to watch Bugs Bunny, knowing that once that hour of cartoon lunacy was over, we'd have to sit through two hours' worth of Hockey Night in Canada. My parents—Dad in particular—wouldn't let us touch the channel knob until the game was over.
Although he'd never travelled east of the Rockies, my father was a die-hard Habs fan; my mother was equally vehement in her support of the Leafs.
Then again, that was their usual pattern—Dad loved Benny Goodman's swinging clarinet, while Mum insisted Artie Shaw's playing was both sweeter and more technically proficient; if Dad said he was voting Liberal, Mum would inform him she planned to cancel his vote by going Conservative this time...or SoCred, as the case might be. She called him a "heathen," so he recited the 23rd Psalm at about 78RPM, to prove she was wrong.
We kids knew better than to venture even the most timid opinions in these areas.
But back to hockey: In the pre-expansion 1960s, hockey was a national religion; the NHL contained exactly six teams (and even the US teams were full of Canadians), so you could be reasonably certain that on any given Saturday night, your chosen team would be playing. If you were a Leafs fan or a Habs fan, you also knew beyond a doubt that one or the other team would skate off the ice with the Stanley Cup.
I don't know where they got it, these two West Coast kids who'd never picked up a hockey stick in their lives, but they stuck fiercely by their chosen teams, vying to out-cheer one another over the scratchy background roar, and the persistent drone of the play-by-play, that emerged from our RCA Victor each Saturday night.
After the first round of expansions, my parents began to lose some of their hockey fervour. Other teams, with names that sounded strange to our ears, began to crowd onto the ice; and eventually, the Leafs and the Habs weren't even playing in the same conferences any longer, so the rivalry in our house began to cool.
But the other night, as I watched Montreal pound in goal after goal, I imagined I heard them again:
"Yes! Look, I told you! Omigod, that was beautiful! He just tucked it in there, neat as a pin..."
"Aw, shaddup. He got lucky, that's all. You just wait—we'll tear you apart in the semi-finals."
"Yeah? You and whose army?"
"I'm not talking to you any more."
"I'm not talking to you first."
And then Dad slung his massive arm along the back of the couch, and Mum tucked her head against his chest, and the game went on.