Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NHL Playoffs: The Only True Sign of Spring

Today is the unofficial first day of spring. It has nothing to do with a groundhog, an equinox, the calendar or the weather. Spring begins when the NHL playoffs start. In fact Mother Nature has tried to set a hockey scene by depositing a dusting of snow on Montreal overnight. (A couple of days ago it was +24°C and a winter’s worth of snow and ice quickly melted. Today’s below freezing temperature of -7°C has turned that melt-water into a city-wide skating rink, all in keeping with that hockey concept.)

I just wish someone had informed Mother Nature that the first two games of the Canadiens-Lighting series are in Tampa Bay, a place that could evidently use a bit of snow to get fans in the hockey mood as the games are not yet sold out.

The Montreal Canadiens or Habs (short for Les Habitants) as they are often referred to locally are the sole Canadian team to make the post-season. Once an annual Rite of Spring in Montreal, playoff hockey – for that matter actually winning the Stanley Cup was an annual affair during some periods - is just a little bit rarer these days, with the Habs not the shoo-in they used to be.

A team that until 2000 had never gone seven years without winning the Cup, the Habs are now riding a 21-year drought, having last won in 1993, and are mired at 24 championships all-time. I’m pleased the marketing folks have trashed the “Drive for Twenty-Five” slogan that just reeked of jinx to me.

Will hockey fans across Canada rally around the Habs? Could be … maybe ... we'll see. A team with a winning tradition like Montreal’s is bound to have many loyal fans, many of whom have relocated both within Canada and farther afield. This Habs diaspora, with their red Montreal Canadiens jerseys, is evident in almost every building in which they play. I think it safe to say that these displaced fans will be backing the team, as they always have. But supporters of other Canadian-based teams may not be jumping on that Habs bandwagon so quickly. 

As much as they are loved in Montreal, the Habs are often loathed by fans of other Canadian teams. Some of whom have in the past gone so far as to say the NHL is biased towards the Habs. Why do they feel this way? To use the scientific term: sour grapes! 

So let the post-season begin and we’ll just have to see what happens. Hopefully the Habs will return from Florida with at least one win – two would be nice – and, please, a very large satchel of warm, sunny Tampa Bay weather!

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