In each sport there’s a certain team or two that stands out from the rest. In MLB you have the New York Yankees, the NFL has the Dalllas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. In the NBA it’s the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers. When I was on vacation in Montreal, I had a chance to tour the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame/statue plaza at the Bell Centre.
You quickly realize that Canadiens history is hockey history; NHL history. And it works on many levels.
They have 24 championships- the most by a very wide margin. They won five in a row 1956-60; four in a row in 1976-79. The 1977 team might be the greatest of all time, as they had a ridiculous 132 points. In ’78 they put up 129, in ’76 127 points. The ’77 team featured nine hall of famers, and the Canadiens won 16 Stanley Cups in a 24 year span.
The H in the Canadiens logo stands for hockey, even though many people today might think it means “Habitantes” or “Habs.” Habitantes translates as peasant or villager. Or what would we call in America “blue-collar.” The nickname says volumes about the franchise’s demographic strengths and everyman appeal. And it’s a perfect gateway to describing the team’s contribution to the social history of the province of Quebec and Canada.
Maurice “The Rocket” Richard is quite possibly the greatest player in pre-Wayne Gretzky NHL history. On 12-28-44, the Rocket overcame exhaustion from helping a family move to score five goals and three assists. He broke numerous franchise and league records en route to becoming one of the sport’s most exciting players and prolific scorers.
He was also a wonderful beacon of hope to the French Canadian population during a time known as the “Great Darkness.” The era produced alarming levels of racism and discrimination against the French, and the effects of the cultural divide are still being felt today. Part of the motivation for the Quebecois separatist movement stems from a belief that their French culture is being oppressed by English speaking Canada. In the Rocket’s time this strong anti-French sentiment inspired a lot of double standards and misapplication of the rules of the sport- some of which led to riots in Montreal.
The race issue, as it often does here in America too, overlapped with class issues. This led to segregation at the Montreal Forum, where fans in the cheaper seats were literally cut off from the rest of the arena by a cage. This is all documented in the film “The Rocket,” I suggest you netflix it. It’s a sports biopic that also addresses the sociopolitical phenomena that surrounds the game a la “Glory Road” and “Remember the Titans.”
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
He does regular weekly radio spots in Chicago and Cleveland and has appeared on live shows all across the world from Houston to New Zealand. You can follow him on Twitter