Behind the Habs: More Than Hockey

The Montreal Canadiens’ longstanding team culture sticks out in the NHL.

Even though the Montreal Canadiens haven’t made waves in the NHL in recent years, the city hasn’t stopped supporting its team. In fact, the Canadiens remain an important aspect of sporting life throughout Quebec.

Last year, the Habs managed to make it to the playoffs, igniting a renewed interest in the team. For two decades, diehard hockey fans have waited patiently for the team to return to form, similar to how they played in the 1970s. Back in 1975, a local hero and writer Mordecai Richler described the team as a ‘spiritual necessity’.

Half a century later, his words ring true—if a bit flat. Aside from cultural history and plenty of silverware, the growth of online sports betting in Canadian provinces including Quebec has also helped ignite interest in the team during the regular season—especially with last year’s gut-wrenching loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fifth round of the Stanley Cup series.

While attending a live game is the most exciting way for fans to show support and invest in their community, new interest in moneylines and other wagers allow fans to engage with the game in a new way… even if the Habs aren’t slated to win in the current 2021-22 season.

At the moment, Habs fans in Montreal and throughout Quebec will latch onto just about anything to curb the pain of their current 8-29-7 record and hope for better under new general manager Kent Hughes. And, in the meantime, there’s plenty of storied history for locals to fall back on.

The Origins of a Sport

Way back in 1875, the very first recorded game of ice hockey was played a few streets down from McGill University’s Roddick Gates. This location sits about 1.6 kilometers from the Habs’ current home at Bell Centre. In other words, the sport’s very first playing ground is only a fifteen-minute walk from where the Canadiens still compete today.

In 1909, businessmen across the city banded together to form The Montreal Canadiens, which competed in the National Hockey Association prior to the formation of the NHL. In fact, the Habs are the only team that predates the formation of the NHL. Once again, they’re not just another franchise in a professional sports league but are directly tied to its formation.

Since then, the Habs haven’t just helped form some of the greatest hockey players in the world but have also directly steered the nature of the sport. And, unlike the rest of the NHL, the Habs have emphasized style from the start—not just scoring and dominating but moving with power and grace in a way that will entertain even non-sports fans.

Unlike the Rest of the NHL

The Habs’ longstanding team culture sticks out in the NHL. Many of the league’s 32 teams have switched cities, and owners, and fanbases, according to the North American franchise system. Though profitable, it turns a team into a business entity rather than cultural property.

And while this type of league may be par for the course in North America, there’s a different approach in Montreal. The Habs belong to the city, and the city belongs to them. They’re closely tied not only to the identity of local Montrealers, but also to Quebec, which is culturally and linguistically unique to the rest of Canada.

Sports are often a substitution battleground for other social and political topics. This is especially true for the Habs and Quebec. And for locals, this means a lot—especially considering there’s no other team in the NHL that comes close to the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup count.

Though they haven’t taken home any silverware since the early 1990s, the Habs have a total of 24. The closest rival in the NHL only has 13.

‘Hits on Something Really Deep’

So, what does it mean to be a fan of a struggling team that has arguably the richest history of any NHL franchise? It depends on who you ask—but there’s no shortage of opinions. As mentioned above, prolific writer Richler described the team as a spiritual necessity and, later, Montreal as ‘easily the most prescient of hockey towns’.

Actor Jay Baruchel, native to Montreal, says that being a fan of the Habs ‘hits on something really deep and tribal’. Before Baruchel was a fan, his father was—and so was his grandfather.

Then, there are perennial quotes from legends like Guy Lafleur, which once again harken back to the Habs’ flare for style. One of his best quotes, which highlights local passion for the game and his own personal preference for panache, reads, ‘I love the game. I want to see creativity. I want to see great goals. I want ‘Wow!’’