Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Bruins And The Habs: Poles Apart

This series is heating up. The games are interesting. The banter between fans almost more so. I have been reading around a bit and it got me thinking about how I cannot relate to anything Bruins fans say about their team, my team or, indeed, hockey.

In fact, growing up during an era when both the Bruins and the Canadiens were perennial fixtures (and often favourites) in the spring dance, I have come to appreciate that the Canadiens, the Bruins and their respective fans inhabit different planes.

Both sets of fans can watch the same game with the same players and the same referees. And come the end, most of the time, both sets of fans truly believe that their team was the better team (at least in past years). If Habs fans take the loss, we complain that our team was a victim of dirty play and inconsistent officiating. If the Bruins lose, their fans will lament the diving and whining that got the Habs the victory.

Don't buy it? I know I had conversations about the change in officiating with other fans and only just scrapped a piece I thought sounded a bit childish about inconsistent referees for the blog. As for the Bruins fans, check out this from a blogger on one of their sites (Ghosts of the Garden) in response to inflammatory jibes from an overzealous Habs fan:

too bad your team stinks too. lets face it the bruins are a team that probably do not deserve to be in the playoffs. your whining, diving and "skilled" team has barely won the the last two they have just meaked out.

what i saw was a bruins team that worked harder than the the "skilled" team. and what exactly are these skills? diving? slashing? trying to take out players knees? anyway what i saw from my team is a team that played honest and harder and did not get rewarded for it, ill take my team thank you.

and remember if you make it to the next round dont get your hopes up, your having a difficult time against the 8th seed.

The difference in club cultures

The difference in cultures goes beyond the perception of injustice. For as long as I can remember, the difference between these two teams comes down to the players the select in the draft, the ones they trade for and suit up and to the people they put in charge to run affairs.

If you look at the current edition of the Canadiens, the rule in building the franchise seems to have been players with skill and at least some character (some exceptions do exist, of course). The Bruins, in contrast, have put together a very large team. This was their preference. This was their plan. While the Habs jettisoned passengers like Downey and Dagenais, the Bruins continue to carry Reich and Thornton.

The Habs gave their highest ever contract to Andrei Markov. the Bruins gave theirs to Zdeno Chara. Things go wrong in the playoffs, Boston bench their smallest and most skilled forward. Montreal at their turn looked to try and get their 20-year-old phenom a better foil.

All this plays to the fans of course. Habs fans love goals and exciting, fast hockey. Bruins fans love winning just as much, but are often seen settling for a lot of huge body checks and oodles of "spirit". In Montreal, 5 years of plodding, hard-working hockey is remembered as one of the darkest periods in team history. Habs fans, while they admire the Lucics of the world want a goal now and again.

So what's the truth? (from a Habs fan's point of view, of course)

About the teams: probably that the Habs are a year or two ahead of the Bruins in a rebuilding process and that we got luckier with that free-for-all lottery and the gift of Carey Price.

About the fans: probably that we're all right and we're all wrong at the same time. The passionate nature of being a fan lends to irrational thought and to extreme bias in the analysis of what is right before your eyes. The fact is, both groups of fans are too engrossed in their own team and their own hockey culture to have time for silly things like self-awareness.

About the approaches of the two teams: skill has trumped size over the years. And that giants with competitive skills are harder to find than skilled players with a willingness to punch above their weight. Considering that the league was changed to favour teams like the one the Canadiens have built since that time, the Bruins fans may have to swallow many difficult pills if they want to hold onto their approach.

About the hard luck: you make your own luck. If you stick to an approach despite all evidence to the contrary and discount every failing as bad luck, you are bound to experience less success than others who don't

About this series: if the Bruins coaches and players can't put their heads together to find a way to score they are facing an impossible task – they won't beat the Habs, they wouldn't beat anyone. Even if they do, the odds are still against them.

I can see the responses coming (like this one from a pot calling a kettle black):

Montreal and their Fans have always been arrogant and irritating!!

Always over sure of themselves always ranting!!!! Never able to deal with the whole picture!!

Now that nonsense is off my chest, I'll leave you with a "Go Habs Go" and a "Long live playoff banter".

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