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cathal kelly

Your team is out of the playoffs. You're alone, and weak. This is when you are vulnerable to hockey charlatans.

Someone is going to come to your front door and hand you a brochure. It's about their groovy new church, called the Montreal Canadiens. There's a lot of singing and clapping and everyone's friendly and they all have ironic mustaches.

"Which church do you go to now? Oh, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Isn't that the one where you spend a lot of time on your knees? Hey, why don't you come down and take a look? It's just for two weeks, against the Rangers. No commitments. You can go back to your old church later."

No, you can't. Some villains may try to rationalize rooting for the Canadiens – some in this very paper – but it is wrong.

Just listen to how foolish you sound when you're trying to explain it.

"It's just good sportsmanship."

No. It's not. It's front-running.

Montreal did this. You had nothing to do with it. You don't get to skip the tears at the graveside and just roll in to the banquet hall as they're opening the bar.

Years ago, you chose a team. And you chose wrong. Now, you root for a loser. Right at this very moment, you are rooting for a golfing foursome instead of a hockey club. Own that choice.

Switching from the Canucks to the Canadiens now is the equivalent of some other Canadian putting his hand up as the boats hit the beach in Dieppe and saying, "I've been thinking about it, and I'd prefer to play for the Germans."

"But we're all in this together."

No. We're not. We're all in this apart.

That's what makes Canada great – a healthy level of sea-to-sea-to-sea contempt. I do not understand the, say, Calgary state of mind, and don't want to. I'm sure all the rest of you are good enough people. When we're invaded by Russia, I'm willing to talk about working together. Otherwise, you stay in your corner and I'll stay in mine. And make sure Brian Burke stays there with you.

"It's Us vs. America."

No. It's Us vs. Us. America doesn't matter here.

Pulling against America in hockey is like pulling against the Washington Generals – pointless. Every team is a Canadian team because it is full of Canadians. On that basis, you can tell random Americans in airports that your team wins the Stanley Cup every year. They'll be so impressed. Once you explain to them what the Stanley Cup is. Is that the sort of Canadian you want to be?

The world is difficult enough without our small-man syndrome popping up every time America brushes by us in the high school cafeteria. We're better than this. Well, I'm better than this. But I'm from Toronto. So I'm just better. Let's start with that idea.

"If it was my team in the conference finals, Montreal would be pulling for us."

Yes, of course. That would happen. If it was, say, Toronto against the Rangers, Montrealers would be streaming out of the 24-hour discos at noon so they could get home for the Leafs game. In the spirit of provincial amity, they'd finally begin paving the Ontario-bound lanes of Route 20.

Hey, maybe they'd dig up Samuel Champlain's corpse and prop it in front of City Hall wearing an Eddie Shack sweater.

Montreal would root for Toronto like I'd root for a global pandemic.

Montreal has its pride. Montreal pulls for Montreal. And once Montreal is out, they abandon hockey and begin that other great Montreal sport – being beautiful in summertime. The rest of us should take notes.

"But I'm just a casual fan."

Then stay out of it. Enjoy hockey the way you enjoy theatre – unaligned.

You don't go to Shakespeare in the Park and start throwing things at the stage when Mercutio buys it.

There is no one so low as the conditional fan: "I root for Team X when Y happens."

Think of this in religious terms. Everyone loves Christmas. And I presume you're okay with me converting to Greek Orthodoxy every Dec. 26th so that I can enjoy two of them?

That's what you're doing when you root for Montreal. Tempting God's wrath.

"But the Canadiens are so exciting to watch."

The next time you're driving home, open the door and, while the car's still moving, try cartwheeling onto the shoulder of the expressway. That'd be exciting to watch. Or when you see a cougar in the wild, run up from behind and give it a good, hard kick. Also exciting.

Because of all your poor choices, hockey-wise, you have forfeited the right to excitement. Now is your time to be sad and angry. Try being angry at Montreal. That can be exciting, too.

"But P.K. Subban …"

P.K. Subban will understand. Stop making everything in Canada about P.K. Subban.

"But the Prime Minister isn't from Montreal, and he's pulling for Montreal."

Oh, is that who we're taking our moral guidance from now? POLITICIANS?

Your average city councillor would wear a Joseph Stalin T-shirt to the intramural gulag soccer championships if he thought it would get him the prison-guard vote. If we're looking for tips in sports comportment, look at what a politician is doing, then slam your head against a wall until you've forgotten that you made the mistake of looking.

"I'm thinking about switching teams."

At least you're being honest. You're a terrible, terrible person, but you are not a liar. That I know of. Yet.

Let us be very clear. If you root for the Montreal Canadiens over the next two weeks, you are a Montreal Canadiens fan. Is that what you want?

Friends will desert you. Your mom will stop calling. Your dog will hire a lawyer and get himself legally emancipated. Because how can he trust you any more?

For a while, this is going to feel okay. You've made your choice. You feel strong.

But then you're going to show up at the Bell Centre with a sickening, newbie, front-running glow and say, "I'm one of you now!" and an actual Montreal Canadiens fan is going to punch you in the face. Because of something to do with the Chateau Clique or René Lévesque or … I don't know. It's complicated.

Before you do anything crazy, just think about how many lives this will ruin.

"Fine. You've convinced me. But I'd still like to be part of the riots."

Hey, we're not the Thought Police. The hockey is one thing. But the riots? That's for all of us. As Canadians.

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