les méprisables

hatersYes, that’s right, the Montreal Canadiens are looking good, sitting up atop the Eastern Conference, even if they did lose last night in a shootout to Ottawa. Cheers to you, Brandon Prust! Way to play, Alex Galchenyuk! Great going, Lars Eller! And yet as natural as it is to cherish the Habs and their success, there are those who take a dimmer view. Art McDonald, for one. Instead of toasting the team’s health and happiness, he might be one to note that today is the day, back in 1910, that Les Canadiens lost by a score of 15-3 to the Haileybury Hockey Club. As he did, in fact, in his comprehensive 1988 Montreal Canadiens Haters Calendar, dedicated “to those who believe there are only two teams in hockey — their favourite team and whoever is playing the Montreal Canadiens.”

With an anti-Hab barb for each day of the year, the calendar does its best to bring down even the sunniest supporter.

February 20: Birthdate of Gilles Lupien, the worst Canadiens’ player of recent years. (1954)

June 14: Canadiens pass up Mike Bossy in the NHL draft. (1977)

July 15: Canadians laugh at a ridiculous Grecian Formula ad featuring ex-Canadien Rocket Richard. (1981)

September 14: North America adopts the Gregorian Calendar, featuring February 29 in leap years. Canadiens are winless on this date. (1752)

An accountant who described himself as a former Montrealer transplanted to Halifax, McDonald professed to have spent 500 hours compiling his record of the team’s ignominy. “It’s been a labour of love,” he told The Hockey News in 1987.

As for that loss to Haileybury, it came during the Canadiens inaugural season, when they played in the short-lived National Hockey Association. They finished last in the seven-team league, McDonald would be glad for you to know. As the Canadiens’ own historical website observes, Montreal met Haileybury twice, noting a 9-5 win at the beginning of February while conveniently leaving out the subsequent 15-3 smothering. Didier Pitre skated for the Habs that year, and Newsy Lalonde, too, who ended up leading the league in scoring. Neither man was on hand in Haileybury, though. “On the French team,” a witness reported, “no player starred.” Jack Laviolette did his best but “was unable to pull off any spectacular skating stunts being too closely watched.” Still, the score was tied 3-3 at the half before the local team ran wild. They weren’t a bad bunch, with Art Ross at point and Skene Ronan playing cover. Alex Currie scored six goals that night and Nick Bawlf another five. And Art Throop. He may not have appeared on the score-sheet, said our reporter, but “also played a great game.”

hateful

They’re still autopsying the Flyers’ exit from the playoffs in Philadelphia, an operation that will go on all summer. A quick survey of the hockey press tells the story, so far, of why they bowed to the New Jersey Devils. It involves (punctuation mine):

• the Devils’ relentless forecheck!
• the Flyers’ lack of offensive depth!
• the Devils clogged up the middle!
• the historical propensity of Flyers’ goalies to lose it during the playoffs!
• the Flyers big-time scorers couldn’t get free for quality shots!
• the Devils were old!
• coach Peter Laviolette’s adjustments weren’t sufficient!
• not enough Chris Pronger!

The Devils were old? The oldest team in the league, actually, which was (according to The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle) “one reason why they seemed so organized and unflappable throughout the series.”

Okay, good. That’s a start. But what about:

• not enough hate!

Well, obviously. After the vitriol of their first-round wrestle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers just couldn’t summon up the spite to propel them past the Devils.

Which, of course, allowed the Devils to save up their reserves of acrimony for the ongoing semi-final against the New York Rangers. Oh, how they hate one another, these two teams. We know this because — well, for one thing, Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur says so in the autobiography, Beyond the Crease (2006), Damien Cox helped him write. “I hate the Rangers,” he reported there and Lou [Lamoriello] hates them to death.”

More proof? In March, the last time the teams met during the regular season, three fights broke out in the first three seconds of the game. That would seem to suggest a certain pre-existing animosity.

And yet, in these playoffs, it wasn’t until Monday’s fourth game that the two teams really began to show their teeth. Most of the Hockey Night in Canada crew seemed to agree on that. “These are two teams who don’t like each other,” Glenn Healy felt the need to remind us, midway through. In case we’d missed it (we had), he was only too pleased to catalogue the nastiness, the little spears, the punches to the heads. And that was before the Rangers’ Mike Rupp swatted at Brodeur, prompting coaches Peter DeBoer and John Tortorella to make like they wanted to tear one another’s throats out.

None of which is really news. It doesn’t surprise anyone who keeps up with the game, much less trigger anything resembling regret or censure. Where else do you see the word hate used so casually, without question or qualification? Maybe you thought it was speed or excitement, in the NHL, that’s the product. It’s what the league’s current Director of Hockey Operations was talking about in 2007 in an interview with The Toronto Star’s Randy Starkman. “We sell hate,” Colin Campbell said. “Our game sells hate. You guys, the media, sell hate.”