hockey night in the dressing room

The corner of Ste. Catherine Street and Atwater was the centre of the hockey world for 70 years. The box-like shell of the old Forum, the site of so many Stanley Cup games, still remains there.

The corner of Ste. Catherine Street and Atwater was the centre of the hockey world for 70 years. The box-like shell of the old Forum, the site of so many Stanley Cup games, still remains there. Gutted, then rebuilt, it now houses a movie theatre complex, restaurants, an electronics store, liquor commission outlet and various other enterprises though it has recreated centre ice and has a small section of grandstand at its core. The Bell Centre built in 1996 replaced it as home of the Montreal Canadiens.

I attended my first game at the Forum on December 30, 1969. On game night people jammed the street in front of the hallowed building. They poured out of the Atwater metro station, or from Ste. Catherine or Sherbrooke buses and various nearby parking lots. Unable to afford scalpers’ prices I managed to get a standing-room-only ticket and found my way up the escalators lit on the outside to look like hockey sticks. Eventually, up in the nose bleed section, I found a few unoccupied feet of railing to lean against.

The St. Louis Blues had their first of only two wins against the Canadiens in the 1969-1970 season that night, a 5-0 blowout. At the time as a student at St. Louis University my loyalties were not as conflicted as they are now after spending a few years at McGill later on. In my post-game exuberance I went down to the Blues dressing room. Police had already cordoned off the entrance from the crowd gathering there.

With a rare stroke of good timing and luck I took my St. Louis University student identification card out, which just happened to be in the appropriate blue and white team colours. By holding it aloft with one finger obscuring the word university I drew the attention of the officer in charge who without hesitation escorted me through the assemblage directly into the dressing room and deposited me there. A bit stunned I just stood to one side while Jimmy Roberts, Al Arbour and others got out of their gear.

In a rarer piece of good luck a Ralston Purina executive from their St. Louis headquarters, whose daughter I happened to know, came in moments later to congratulate Coach Scotty Bowman on the Blue’s first win ever at the Forum. Through my acquaintance with him I actually could join in the celebratory mood in the locker room and even meet Clarence Campbell who came by a little later with congratulations as well.

The only other standout memory among the handful of Canadiens games I have attended took place a few years ago when my son, Liam, took to the Bell Centre ice during a game. Albeit it was during the second intermission when he and his ice dance partner gave an exhibition of their prowess on ice for the crowd, but a proud moment for their fathers nonetheless, plus free seats for the game.

This year’s run by the Habs for the Stanley Cup is certainly exciting. In many of the after game interviews the Canadien players have attributed their success to teamwork. Beyond the sport cliches they are clearly doing something together that they individual stars have been unable to do against them separately. The other thing mentioned consistently is the fun they are having. The challenging of striving for the Stanley Cup though clearly daunting does not have to be joyless.

Once you get by the fact that the hockey is just a game and the minimum salary of a NHL player is $500,000 this year, obviously there are some life lessons here. Globally we have enormous challenges before us. They will be resolved by dogged, determined, collective action and no small degree of luck. Learning to work together across the cultural, religious and other social barriers that have divided us for so long will alone be a proud human achievement. Finding the common social will and purpose to address the life threatening problems confronting us will offer the hope needed to persevere. Doing all this joyfully will be an accomplishment far grander than the exultation coming from holding up any cup.

Go Habs, go!

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.