March 18, 2011
On the same day some are asking if the Montreal Canadiens are the NHL's most hated team, the venerable Gentleman's Quarterly magazine has named Habs fans, aka Frostbitten Hooligans, as the 11th "worst" fan base in America.
(Despite, you know, being Canadian Canadiens. If this was a continental competition, Mexico totally got shafted …)
Forget the riots that erupted last May after the Canadiens made it to the Eastern Conference final; they were nothing compared with the hordes of looters who set fire to five police cars during the 2008 playoffs simply because Montreal advanced past the first round.
Meanwhile, inside the Bell Centre, the only things people boo more frequently than the U.S. national anthem are their own players. In 2003, team veteran Patrice "Breeze-by" Brisebois was heckled almost every time he touched the puck; the jeering was so intense it likely induced a stress-related irregular heartbeat. How did then GM Bob Gainey feel about his bloodthirsty fan base? "I think they're a bunch of gutless bastards, to be honest," he said.
The Canadiens fans are the only hockey fans to make the list; before you ask, Philadelphia was represented by the Eagles and Phillies fans at the top of the ranking.
Everything Winer mentions is ultimately accurate. Habs fans riot for no good reason. Habs fans jeer their own players; ask Carey Price(notes) about his preseason. Habs fans are a demanding lot; what Winer doesn't mention, but what the other 29 fan bases in the NHL know so well, is how quickly 24 Stanley Cup championships are flaunted like an aging starlet's cleavage when the need arises. Which is to say, every conversation ever had about Canadiens hockey.
That said … do you hate Montreal Canadiens fans? Because while the headline says "worst," GQ is really talking about the fan bases we loathe.
But mostly, their actions are viewed less as hooliganism and more as, for lack of a better term, buffoonery. Burning cop cars after a victory is stupid. Booing your starting goalie in a preseason game is stupid. Showing up in blackface is stupid. "Hate" isn't the emotion these actions evoke; it's more like disapproving befuddlement at their cultish behavior.
There's also pity, in the sense that they're enabled. Example: When you have the team owner, the city council, a major corporate sponsor and the media tossing gasoline on the Pacioretty fire, the fans will respond in kind. When the organization has a centennial celebration that lasts nearly another hundred years, their egos are stroked. Hell, now the team won't even allow use of the word "Habs" for newspapers dedicating resources to coverage of the team.
Anyone that's been there knows how hockey is treated in Montreal, and the fans are a product of that fishbowl.
We talked about "hated" fan bases on Puck Daddy Radio on Friday. They're usually brash bandwagoners or general miscreants whose happiness, hopes and dreams you love to see squashed every spring.
All due respect to GQ and those who feel the Canadiens are the most loathed fans and franchise in hockey, but where the hell were you when Cinderella danced past the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins last season?
Oh, that's right: Cheering them on.