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THE MOJ: Reassuring to see the allure of the Montreal Canadiens continues

Rich legacy of the franchise ensures their visits to B.C. are never really road games
Vancouver Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev, back, of Russia, Brock Boeser, back right, and Elias Pettersson celebrate Mikheyev’s goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Some things never change.

The Montreal Canadiens recent trip to Rogers Arena to take on the Canucks saw yet another example of the visitors receiving tremendous fan support in Vancouver.

In a game that had more twists and turns than a Breaking Bad episode, the Canucks rallied from a 4-0 deficit to win 7-6 in overtime.

Leaving the rink, Canuck fans were ecstatic while Canadiens fans were in disbelief but both sides would agree that it was the best atmosphere in Rogers Arena this season.

It’s been that way since the Canucks entered the National Hockey League in 1970.

You could understand why the building would be electric back then but it’s interesting to see the phenomenon continue today.

First some background.

The Canadiens had won nine Stanley Cups during the period from 1955 to 1969.

If you were a hockey fan in Canada in the 1960’s during the “Original Six” period, you pretty much cheered for either the Habs or the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When Vancouver entered the league in 1970, it wasn’t a shock to see the Pacific Coliseum half full of either Montreal or Toronto fans but it was Montreal who had more appeal.

While the Maple Leafs fell upon hard times in the 1970’s, the Canadiens won Cups in ’71, ’73 and then four-straight from ’76 through ’79. When they came into Vancouver in the 70’s, it was an event. Every media outlet covered their visit as if the Beatles had arrived. I remember listening to the radio and you’d hear DJ’s giving updates on Guy Lafleur sightings at Pacific Centre.

The only other time I’ve seen something comparable was on three occasions Micheal Jordan and the Chicago Bulls visited Vancouver to play the Grizzlies in the 90’s.

Needless to say, tickets were a hot commodity. I remember going to games as a kid with my mom and her buying the $10 Reds (yes, prime seats cost $10) for double or triple the face value but man what an experience it was to see those red Canadiens jerseys fly around the ice live and in person.

What added to the “Flying Frenchmen” mystique was that Montreal owned Vancouver.

Minus one playoff win in 1975, the Canucks were 0-24-3 in their first five seasons against the Canadiens.

I vividly remember listening to Jim Robson’s call of one game in Vancouver in which Gerry O’Flaherty scored in the first minute of play. I thought to myself “this is the night we finally win” – then Montreal scored nine unanswered goals to crush the Canucks 9-1. Just to make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me, I looked up the game on and there it was – Montreal 9, Vancouver 1 on November 24th, 1972 with O’Flaherty scoring 28 seconds into the game.

Vancouver finally snapped the winless streak in Montreal with a 6-4 win on February 12, 1976, and as the years moved on, the Canadiens dominance of the Canucks and the rest of the league slowly waned with the organization managing to win only two more cups in ’86 and ’93.

Despite their fall from grace, the Canadiens rarely play a ‘road game’ anywhere in Canada as their fans turn out in full force from Ottawa to Vancouver.

Do you ever ask yourself why?

As mentioned, they haven’t won a Cup since 1993, so it’s not about recent success. The days of the ‘Original Six’ are long gone as you now have 32 teams, so it’s not like your forced to cheer for Montreal or Toronto.

Maybe it’s the ‘tribal factor’ as your parents may have cheered for them and you’ve followed suit. Maybe it’s because you love the jerseys. Maybe it’s the Habs rich history or maybe it’s as simple as being a transplanted Montrealer but whatever the reason, Habs fans keep showing up in numbers.

We experience a lot of change over the course of our lifetimes but it’s sometimes reassuring to know that some things remain the same.

Just ask anyone who was in attendance at Rogers Arena last Monday.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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