David Shribman is the former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of U.S. politics. He teaches at McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy in Montreal.
Hello, Jean Béliveau and René Descartes. Summoning P.K. Subban and J.P. Sartre. Calling Maurice Richard and Bertrand Russell.
I am in personal turmoil as the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993. I’m haunted by a classic question of hockey and philosophy: Is it permissible for a dual citizen to be a dual hockey partisan?
The United States tolerates dual citizenship, like mine with Canada. Can my Pittsburgh Penguins tolerate dual hockey allegiance like mine with the Canadiens?
That is my conundrum as I approach my second stint living in my second country, in Canada, where I teach U.S. politics at McGill University. Once again I will live in Montreal, where my mother swathed herself in the bleu, blanc et rouge of Canadiens regalia in the era of Howie Morenz back in the twenties and thirties and where my grandfather sometimes seemed to spend more time at hockey’s storied Forum than at home.
I love the Penguins, in my real hometown of Pittsburgh. But the Canadiens are my link to my heritage north of the 49th parallel. The extra “u” in words like “colour” and “neighbour” sometimes makes me wonder who “I” am, especially when I glide my skates across the Beaver Lake Skating Rink atop Mount Royal in the centre of the city.
On those days, when I zip up my Penguins jacket in the Lac-aux-Castors Pavilion, I get unsettling stares from the habitants. Then again, when I gave a Penguins jersey to my cousin Sue Ann, a member of the Buffalo River Dene Nation in Dillon, Sask., who is a devoted habitué of Habs World, she suggested it might make a nice dust rag.
My grandfather – as Canadian as can be, since he worked in the fur industry – was for his part originally a partisan of the old Montreal Maroons, the fabled and favourite team of Montreal’s English-speaking minority. Over the course of their history, the Maroons had King Clancy as a coach, a short stint by future Canadiens star and coach Toe Blake, and two NHL championship runs, in 1926 and 1935.
So one day, in the very Forum that is remembered for such landmark events as Morenz’s 1937 funeral at centre ice and the 1955 riot that prompted 100 arrests after Maurice Richard was suspended for striking an NHL linesman, my grandfather took issue with a Canadiens supporter. One thing led to another, one remark led to conflict, and my grandfather was moved to spit in the face of the Canadiens fan. He was, of course, escorted from the arena – not exactly the proudest moment in family history.
When the Maroons folded in 1938, however, he fell into the Canadiens’ fold with the zeal of the convert, so much so that he warped my early hockey perspectives. Whenever he would fly to Boston to visit with us, we would always go to a hockey game. I was 7 years old before I realized he only visited on weekends when the Habs were in town. I thought the Bruins only played the Canadiens; I never saw anyone else at the Boston Garden.
Eventually I got to know Eddie Johnston, a Bruins goaltender for two Stanley Cup winners in my Boston childhood and then a coach for the Penguins in Pittsburgh, where I have lived for nearly two decades. As I’ve said countless times, the thing I loved the best about him was how he took legend Bobby Orr to the funeral of one of his Montreal gangster brothers, who consorted with men such as the notorious Frank (Dunny) Ryan and Allan (The Weasel) Ross. Eddie himself merely tangled with bruisers such as Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, and was on the ice against goalies such as Lorne (Gump) Worsley, and faced penalty shots, not police shootouts.
So two years ago, when I moved into my Montreal apartment across the street from Westmount High School – alma mater of balladeer Leonard Cohen, hockey star Art Ross, architect Moshe Safdie and my mother – I sought absolution from Pittsburgh Penguins president David Morehouse.
“We think of ourselves as the eighth Canadian team, so dual allegiances are part of our identity,” said Mr. Morehouse, who after all works for Mario Lemieux, who is part of the Penguins ownership group and is himself a Montreal native. “We don’t mind sharing our fans with Canadian teams – and with the Canadiens.”
Phew. Allez Montréal.
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