Roughly 35 years ago—at the height of their last dynastic period in the National Hockey League—the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup so often that the mayor of the city, the charming Jean Drapeau, announced in a press release in the 1970s that the victory parade following yet another title would take place "along the usual route" in downtown Montreal, along the fabled Rue Sainte-Catherine.
This past week, after a surprising run which unseated from the playoffs the two best players in the sport—Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) and Alex Ovechkin (Washington)—the Canadiens were themselves trounced out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final. The defeat marked the 17th year in a row without a Cup for Montreal, the longest futility streak in the 100 years of the franchise. Therefore, an entire generation of Montrealers—and millions of other "Habs" fans around the world—have grown up without seeing the parade on the "usual route" or any other.
Perhaps because of the historic dry spell, there was evidently some brief talk of having a parade in downtown Montreal for the Also-Rans following their defeat at the hands of the Broad Street Bullies—and before the end of the season (the Flyers will play the Chicago Blackhawks for the Cup in a series which begins this weekend). But then civic leaders came to their senses to remember that just a few weeks ago, after the team eliminated the Stanley Cup champion Penguins, Canadiens' fans rampaged through the streets of Montreal following a victory celebration.
Montreal has rioted before—often, actually—over hockey-related matters. There was the riot in 1993 when the Canadiens last won the Cup, and one in 1986 after the Habs had won after a seven-year drought, and one on St. Patrick's Day in 1955 when the Commissioner of the NHL, an English-Canadian named Clarence Campbell, suspended French-Canadien superstar Maurice Richard from the playoffs, thus ending Montreal's chance for yet another Cup. I am quite sure I am overlooking a riot or two.
Such talk of a parade for finishing fourth also was quickly tramped down for less practical, more prideful reasons. "Since when did Montreal become another Original Six Canadian city," holding a parade without a Cup, sniffed a columnist for the Montreal Gazette, alluding snarkily to the relative lack of playoff success enjoyed by the hockey teams in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. They have loser parades in other provinces, in other words, but not in Quebec.
Speaking of Canadian politics, the Vancouver Canucks this year didn't make it as far in the playoffs as the Canadiens did. But the Canucks did indirectly engender the wrath of Montreal fans after an idiotic Canadian politician had the nerve to propose that the Canucks (zero Cup wins) were actually "Canada's Team" rather than the Canadiens. "That shocks me," said Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri, a Canadian-born player who went to school at the University of Michigan. In any event, Montreal's courageous run clearly has earned them back the title, at least until next year.
The "usual route" legend is a form of short-hand among fans of Les Bleu Blanc Et Rouge (literally: blue, white and red, marking the colors of the Canadiens' fabled hockey sweater). It connotes an earlier era of expectation and fulfillment; of challenges met, of vanquished foes, and mostly of kicking ass. When Montreal last won the Cup, the headline in the Gazette (which I have framed in my basement) read: "The Cup Comes Home."
Home to 24 championships, more than its two closest NHL competitors combined. Home to an organization that dressed no fewer than 10 future Hall of Famers in a game at the same time on December 31, 1975—an exhibition match against the Soviet Union which some still say was the greatest game ever played on a North American rink. Home to a city that makes Boston's love for the Red Sox seem like a schoolyard crush and Texas' love for the Dallas Cowboys seem like a cheap date.
So here's another "no" vote for a parade "along the usual route" this year. Gone now for almost two decades, the Cup will, indeed, come "home" to Montreal one year following a Habs' championship. And when it does, the good people of Montreal and its environs will go mad with passion and joy and satisfaction once again, letting loose their pent-up hopes after such a long exile from the promised land. Unless you are a cop or a store owner along Ste.-Catherine Street, I'm guessing it will be worth the wait.