The Montreal Canadiens have a terrible 4-13-2 record after their first 19 games, one of the worst starts in the franchise’s 112-year history. What’s worse, they’ve allowed five goals or more in eight of 19 games, which means that 50 percent of the time, their goaltenders see more shots than a college kid during spring break. It’s a painful situation, especially for fans who watched their beloved Habs make a run to the Stanley Cup Final just last season.
So, why do fans keep coming back for more? Why do they subject themselves to this frustration? There are several reasons.
One reason, in a word, is habit. Some fans set aside an hour or two each day to read up on their team. Perhaps they tune into their favorite hockey show. For some fans, sports or hockey helps them cope with their daily lives, and no matter if their team is good or bad, they enjoy having that touchstone to move ahead.
This season, however, is like a self-inflicted injury, dealing with the losses and the social media posts from opposing fans, tagging them in memes and videos. Some of the social media abuse is self-inflicted, even when humorous and self-deprecating.
This season, that habit requires thick skin as it will be a long season. The message from fans is they expect more, and the organization and players are aware, as Brendan Gallagher alluded to in his recent comments.
“The message for us is we’re going to keep working to find solutions. Expectations are not being met. We have our expectations of ourselves as a team and when you don’t meet them, you’re disappointed. But there’s lots of time here for us to get this thing back on track. It’s just a matter of we got to put together some consistent efforts and find a way. But there’s no pity party. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.”
–Brendan Gallagher (Stu Cowen, Stu Cowan: Bad and boring is not a good combination for Canadiens, The Montreal Gazette, 18 Nov 2021)
For some, tradition means loyalty, seeing the silver lining. For others it’s just a form of entertainment. There are even those who essentially “hate follow” the team. They follow not to cheer or enjoy the team’s successes, but simply don’t want to cheer for another team because the cultural draw for the Canadiens as a franchise is too great. Some may be former Nordiques fans who await the return of the team and while they wait, enjoy playing the Eeyore to the remainder of the fan base. Or perhaps, they’re just a glass-half-full type of person; either way, they make social media pages dedicated to the Canadiens interesting.
Watching these games is something that fans of all ages like to share from one generation to the next — something special that can bring families together.
Parents sharing their love of the game and the Canadiens with their children building lasting bonds. It could be that memory of a parent taking them to their first NHL game, or that special weeknight they were allowed to stay up late to watch a game together. Last season’s Cup Final run made it much easier to create those moments as the adults feel that excitement and choose more easily to share it with their children. This season, for those who have already had those moments, they will cling to that tradition. Possibly using it as a support system, allowing families to continue to bond over the game, but now, it is in breaking down the problems that they see.
To Watch the Kids Play
Youth, youth, youth. For those wanting to see a silver lining in the painful start to the season, they will look to the Canadiens’ youth to generate interest. Watching certain players in isolation to watch their development, maybe to cheer on individual firsts and accomplishments. The Canadiens have no shortage of young players, thanks in large part to general manager Marc Bergevin accumulating 38 draft picks over the last four NHL Entry Drafts.
Related: Caufield Sent to Laval
No matter the outcome of the games, whether they’re wins or losses, blowouts or close games, the outcomes are less relevant now than the development process for young players, such as Nick Suzuki, Cayden Primeau and Ryan Poehling. Fans were excited to watch the recent game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins to watch 21-year-old Mattias Norlinder play his first NHL game, in which he proved himself to be more capable in some offensive areas of the game that earned praise from the fan base.
Cole Caufield was recently recalled from the American Hockey League and Habs fans were watching the entire 6-0 loss to the Penguins to see if the spark was back in his game. They came away pleased, watching a young winger bring enthusiasm back to the NHL roster.
Ben Chiarot was asked about Caufield’s play after the lopsided loss to Pittsburgh in the post-game press conference:
“He comes back with a lot of confidence, moving and playing well, so I was proud of him.”
The hope fans have for the youth now is that they earn experience in what is quickly becoming a lost season. Their desire is to have them develop quickly, so as to be ready to play to their potentials next season.
Perpetual hope. Fans are fans — they love their team, their sport, the tradition, the habit of watching nightly. It’s one thing to spend big money to go to games, it’s another to put on a jersey, get a beverage and sit on the couch with family and friends and state, “I would have done (insert play description here).” Even if attendance and revenues for team owner Geoff Molson fall below projections, current fans will continue to follow the team, but the job is to create new fans, and it will fall onto him to ensure a winning product returns to make it possible for this cycle to be passed onto another generation of hockey fans.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.