I grew up loving the New York Rangers. For most of the 1960s, Jimmy Schnell, his cousin Andy, and I would regularly take the subway to the old Madison Square Garden, buy $2 seats in the second balcony, and settle in to watch what was usually a loss by the Broadway Blueshirts.
(The thing about the second balcony was, we could only see about three-quarters of the action because from the fourth row back, the ice directly below was blocked out. It was supposed to be open seating in the second balcony, but a bunch of regulars greased the ushers frequently enough to reserve the first three rows for them.)
At the time, of course, the National Hockey League consisted of the Original Six – Rangers, Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The top four teams from the regular season got into the playoffs each year.
Most years that did not include the Rangers.
From the 1957 to 1967, the Rangers made the playoffs three times, never getting past the semifinal round. (After 1967 the NHL doubled in size and I drifted off to do seven years in Ohio, where the local ABC affiliate aired Cincinnati Reds spring training games rather than the Stanley Cup playoffs.)
During that same ten-year stretch, the Canadiens won six Stanley Cup Championships and were very likely the most arrogant athletes on the face of the earth. Under the circumstances, hating Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge was mandatory.
Now that Montreal is in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 28 years, though, I am in a quandary. I’ve watched a lot of hockey over the past month or so and the Canadiens have been by far the most appealing team.
Consider the road Les Habitants have taken to the Finals:
• First, they came back from a three games to one deficit to beat the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs
• Then they swept the also-favored Winnipeg Jets
• Then they dispatched the stupendously unlikable Vegas Golden Knights
And now they face the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team I haven’t paid much attention to and have nothing against.
But in no small part because Montreal never should have reached the Finals, I’m #TeamCanadiens.
Fly, pigs, fly!