Editor's Note: A mid-week game in Montreal limits the number of the Faithful that can make their presence felt in the Bell Centre but our very own Leaf in Habland made it out. Here's his account of the incursion.
Last year, my girlfriend got us two front row tickets to a Leafs/Habs game. It was a great sacrifice for her as she is a Habs fan, but she's cool like that. It was the "Grabbo's Revenge" game, and the Leafs won 5-2. When I first moved to Montreal, my dad was in town to visit, and I managed to score some tickets to Leafs/Habs. Leafs won 4-1, I think. We were way up top. There was this guy who was clearly there alone, who kept saying "Oui Monsieur, Oui Monsieur" every time the Habs did anything. When the Leafs scored, I yelled "Oui Monsieur!" He didn't think it was funny. A couple of years ago, my girlfriend and I bought tickets with another Habs/Leafs couple. That season, the Habs actually did something cool with their ticket packages: you could buy a "Leafs" pack, and get tickets to all four regular season home games against Toronto, plus one in the pre-season, plus I think they made you buy a Florida ticket as well. Crafty!
This year, they did away with the Leafs pack, and actually made it very hard to buy tickets to all three Leafs games. I managed to get tickets (up in the rafters) to this one through the "Canadian Teams" pack, and I also bought a solo ticket in the Reds (all that was left) for the final game of the season. I saw the Habs and Sens in pre-season action (such a boring game I don't even remember who won, but I took my cousin who had just arrived in town and he was pumped), and then I saw Kipper and the Flames shut them out a few weeks ago. Of course tonight's game was the one I was looking forward to the most.
Leaf games at the Bell Centre are interesting affairs. There are often just as many Leaf fans as Hab fans. That did not seem to be the case tonight, at least not up in section 320. There were a few colourful Buds faithful, but there was not the usual back and forth, and no Go Leafs Go chants rose up. The Toronto contingent in my section consisted of myself and another fairly mild fellow (cranky and bitter on the inside, but not really the shouting type), an old man with a wicked-ass beard and a cane, and a father and his twelve year-old daughter. She wore a Leafs touque with a pompom.
As seems to be the norm in the NHL these days, we were "treated" to a pre-game ceremony: the Grey Cup champion Als brought their trophy out onto the ice. The Habs faithful were delirious with joy, as it's not likely they'll see a silver cup of that shape in the Bell Centre any time soon. They also presented the Molson Three Stars award for November to Carey Price. More delirious cheering.
The Leafs started out pretty well, keeping the pressure on, until the first penalty. I think shots were 8-1 Habs at one point. Then, inexplicably, Colton Orr scored. I don't know who was more stunned, me, or the Habs fans. Anyway, I left my seat with a yell, as did my buddy. I have never been in a room with 20,000 people that has been so quiet. Similar to Grabbo's Game last year, it was as if Habs fans were expecting something bad to happen. Well, when Colton Orr scores...
To be honest, the game was a perfect road game by the Leafs. They got the crowd out of it, kept Montreal to the outside, capitalised on chances (well, some chances...not the Kessel breakaway!), and didn't take too many penalties (only one, I think). When Jeff Finger scored, we were on our feet again, and I believe this is when the booing started. To his credit, the Habs fan right in front of us was giving his compatriots very dirty looks when they started with the booing. He was also having a good natured rivalry with the twelve year-old girl, putting popcorn in the pompom of her touque. It was pretty cool to see such collegiality up in the greys.
Low point was when Joey Mac skated out to start the second. Having no tv and no internet, I could only assume the worst. This seemed to rejuvenate the Habs fans around as well, though when it was confirmed that it was a heart issue (through some furious texting and off-site research by my girlfriend), the two guys next to us looked appropriately concerned. As Ron Wilson said "a game is not that important." Luckily it seems like he's ok, and luckily Joey Mac rocked the party. The same Hab fan who was down on the booing was also looking around angrily when I started to chant "Joey! Joey!" Maybe he just likes to watch the game quietly.
Stajan's breakaway goal was sweetness. It is amazing how fast things happen when you are there live, even though you have a broader perspective. I could see when Kessel had the puck that Stajan was streaking free. I imagine if I had been watching on tv, I wouldn't have known that, until the pass was made. So my enthusiasm was already building. Both teams actually looked pretty slow most of the night, but from the moment he took the pass and calmed down the puck to the celebration in the corner passed in a flash. Kind of like his shot that was in and out of the top corner so fast, I was a little worried it had hit post.
The third period was pretty much a bore. There seemed to be a fight about to start one section over, but everyone remained calm. The way the Habs were playing (brutal) gave me confidence that we had it in the bag. My friend said "shutout" way too early in the third period for my liking, but since we got it anyway, maybe that superstition should be put to rest. I said it before: a great road game by the Leafs. I was confused for a second and thought maybe the Buffalo Sabres had gotten on the wrong charter. But no, this was the Leafs as they should be.
When I was leaving the Calgary game a couple of weeks ago, there was one Flames fan who was really giving it to the locals. Some people were starting to get quite impatient with him. I am not like that, and so as we left, I was satisfied to smile smugly. I saw this big dude walking the other way, wearing a bright blue t-shirt with a white maple leaf on it. As he got closer, I caught his eye, and gave him a bit of a nod. As I did so, the crowd parted and I noticed that beneath the white leaf were the letters S-U-C-K in white. Oops. At least he has one of the grammatically correct shirts. There are, out there somewhere, Leaf Sucks t-shirts. I thought that mistake had been corrected since last year, but again tonight the wrongly agreed subject and verb were being spouted across the Bell Centre. My thought is always, if the Leafs suck, and they beat the Habs, what does that say about your team? But logic was never a strong point for Habs fans.
Neither is it for whoever picked the three stars. Phil Kessel first star? Really? No Joey Mac? I guess the game on tv was different from the one you see live. I would have picked Finger, Komi and J-Mac. Two big tough stay-at-home D-men really were the face of the Leafs tonight.
The final highlight of the night was as we were walking away, a crowd of Leaf fans dancing in the street, singing olé olé olé olé! Olé! Olé!
GO LEAFS GO!