Monday, 26 May 2014

Behind Enemy Lines

This is my boy, Mike. Mike is a great guy, a smart individual, and a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. He can be seen in this picture enjoy some uniquely Canadian items: poutine, Labatt's Blue, and Molson Canadian. Needless to say, Mike loves him some Canadiana, in particular that of the Montreal variety. After all, vive les Expos! Mike, though, lives in New York City. With the Rangers and Canadiens locked in mortal combat for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, Mike announced via Facebook that he was going to Game Three at Madison Square Garden!

Being that HBIC loves a good human interest story, Mike agreed to document his pilgrimage down to the most famous arena in the world and document his experience as a Habs fan in hostile territory. Mike is a great sport for doing this, so, without further adieu, here's Mike's adventure in Madison Square Garden during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final!
I have been a hockey fan all my life, dating back to my youth in New Orleans, La., when I was a diehard fan of the now-defunct local ECHL team, the New Orleans Brass. Once I moved to Montreal to pursue my undergrad degree at McGill, I adopted the Habs as my new favorite team. (It did not hurt that my favorite historical player has always been Ken Dryden. I am the son of a Cornell University alumna, and my parents always used him as an example of why it is important not to let athletics supercede academics.) Currently, I go to law school at Hofstra University, and I am also pursuing a MBA. This means I study in the heart of Islanders country. Furthermore, my parents live on Long Island, which is a direct train ride to Madison Square Garden. I've seen the Habs visit Uniondale on three occasions, but imagine my excitement when I realized the Habs and Rangers were to square off in the playoffs! I picked up a single ticket on StubHub for Game 3 (at this time, I didn't know it would be on Thursday - I just knew I'd clear my schedule for it), and then your friendly editor, Teebz, asked if I'd like to document my experience. Sure!

Leading up to Game 3, Rangers fever was as high as I can remember. (Note: I was five years old and in New Orleans when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994, so I can't count that.) Unfortunately for me, the Habs had laid a pair of eggs at home, and had spotted the Rangers a 2-0 game lead going into their home barn. StubHub prices could have doubled my money back, but I decided to keep my ticket. Win or lose, this would be my first hockey game at MSG (I’ve been to one Knicks game before, but that's it), and I figured the memories would be priceless. So I put on my authentic Andrei Markov jersey and my blue Expos cap, and boarded the train to get to NYC.

First stop: grub and beer at Mile End Deli. I wanted to feel some kind of friendly confines before entering MSG as an enemy fan, so I feasted on a hot chicken poutine, a smoked meat sandwich, some red coleslaw (vinegar-based, but definitely an inspired version beyond choux traditionelle), and a hearty supply of beer. Mile End was more than ready for the occasion: not only did they have a Habs flag in their window, but they also hosted Paul Houde and his radio station, as they did a live broadcast on 98.5 FM! Malgré la faite que mon français est assez bien, I would have felt hopelessly insecure speaking French on francophone radio. But I had a great time (and you should definitely pay a visit to Mile End!), and it definitely put me in a great mood heading over to the Garden.

Next stop: the Garden. This was a far cry from a regular season game at Uniondale, where Habs fans buy half the arena and rent coach buses. MAYBE I saw 20 scattered Habs fans all night. It was a heavily pro-Rangers crowd, and everybody was giddy, clearly itching to see an all-but-four-times-insurmountable 3-0 series lead. My seat was in Section 222, Row 24 - that is THE very last row. I wound up standing all night, for a better view while disrupting nobody. MSG laid out a blue t-shirt and a white towel on every seat. My neighbor wanted to have souvenirs for his daughter and nephew, so instead of taking that swag home to sell on eBay, I let him have my set. Why not?

It was a thrilling game. I saw the Brandon Prust hit on Derek Stepan: it looked fast in real time, even though the NHL DPS rightfully charged Prust with two games for changing course to dish out a second-late hit. Refereeing is a hard job, but the fans were on the zebras' case all night as a result of that. Tossing out Daniel Carcillo didn't help either, but that was a more obvious call than missing the Prust call in my opinion. The first period was total torture for me, given that fluky Carl Hagelin goal off the 2-on-1 rebound, as well as a huge SOG disparity. I needed a turnaround, and even though Dustin Tokarski was playing valiantly (and eventually won!), his rebounds made me nervous all night. Slowly but surely, I got it in the second and third periods, as Andrei Markov and Daniel Brière tied the score and gave us the lead, respectively. And then, the Rangers pulled the goalie. I cannot remember a lonelier feeling than watching that puck go off Chris Kreider and then Alexei Emelin's skate, and hearing the entire arena rejoice in the Habs' and my agony. Of course, Alex Galchenyuk made it completely worth my while in overtime!

As an opposing fan, I proudly wore my colors, but I tried to be as low-key as possible. I didn’t leave my seat for a second, so I cannot comment on the bathroom lines. After the two goals, I definitely saw some middle fingers pointed at me. Stay classy, "gents." There also were some sad drunk Rangers fans who wanted words with me, but I had selective hearing that night. Here's my point of view: I'm here to watch my favorite team in person, and so should you. If you want to go out of your way to state an obvious opinion, don't bother, because I think I can figure out what's on your mind anyway. But for the most part, the Rangers fans were nice, and they seemed knowledgeable and highly emotionally invested in their team. Can't knock that.

As a Uni Watcher, no photos unfortunately (my phone died after the third period), but in no particular order, my favorite jerseys seen on fans were a Jed Ortmeyer jersey, a white Lady Liberty Mike Richter jersey, and a blue Team Sweden Henrik Lundqvist jersey.
WOW. Beauty report, Mike! Again, I love a good story about someone's experience, and I'm glad to read that Mike's experience, overall, was positive despite a few knuckleheads trying to ruin his night. I have found that fans in opposing buildings do like to give fans of visiting teams a rough go, but it sounds like the entire experience at Madison Square Garden was great!

The Habs need to play some inspired hockey now, though. Game Five goes tomorrow night with the Canadiens' backs against the wall!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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