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JIGGENS: Why a Leafs fan is rooting for Montreal

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Like millions of other Canadians, I’m still mourning the early departure of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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The good news, however, is that my second favourite team is still alive and kicking. No, it’s not the New York Islanders. Nor is it the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s not the Vegas Golden Knights, either.

That leaves …. yes, it’s the Montreal Canadiens.

Those who know me as a long suffering, dyed-in-the-wool Leafs fans look at me as if I have two heads when they learn the Habs are my next favourite team.

“That’s blasphemous,” they’ll say, pointing out that it’s impossible to cheer for both Toronto and Montreal. They’ll tell me Montreal is the NHL’s Evil Empire, and that I can’t possibly be a “real” Leafs fan if I also happen to like the Canadiens. Other Toronto fans will tell me my team preferences amount to me saying England was my favourite Second World War country while Nazi Germany was my second favourite.

I wouldn’t quite put it in those terms, but I’ve always admired the way the Canadiens built their teams over the decades. Once upon a time, the Habs had the shrewdest general manager in hockey. Sam Pollack invented the art of trading veteran players to weaker teams for high draft picks. This is how Montreal acquired Guy Lafleur, and we all know how that story ended.

It’s true that the current millennium hasn’t been particularly kind to the Canadiens, who have experienced several missed playoff seasons and early post-season exits. But, some pundits are actually suggesting the Habs have a better-than-average chance of knocking off the tired Golden Knights in this current round. I hope they’re right.

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One of the unfortunate aspects about this series for the Canadiens will be having to play in a packed Vegas arena before returning home to play in front of a mere 2,500 fans. Ordinarily, the Bell Centre in Montreal is easily the loudest of the seven Canadian NHL rinks, and arguably the moist boisterous in the entire league.

Watching Canadiens’ games in the 1970s when they played at the equally loud Forum was a real treat, especially with the incomparable Danny Gallivan calling the play by play. Not only did Montreal have a superior team than Toronto during that era, the Habs’ broadcast team was also much better. Bill Hewitt was good, but Gallivan was great.

Today, we have Chris Cuthbert describing the play, and he may well be TV’s next coming of Gallivan. He’ll breathe some excitement into this series. Those 2,500 Montreal fans, however, will have to raise their voices several decibels to fire their team up if the Canadiens are to get past Vegas.

I will salute the Canadiens no matter how far they go, but my Leafs hat will go back on my head once Montreal’s run is over. And then, in the fall, I’ll do what I’ve been doing the past 50-plus years – hoping Toronto has a banner season. I truly thought this was the year, but I’ve become accustomed to this form of heartache annually.

So, until then, it’s “Go, Habs, go.”

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