Sometimes I sit back in amazement and laugh at the fact that a guy from Arlington, MA who grew up a diehard Boston Bruins fan and hated the Montreal Canadiens, now covers both teams in, what to me, is the greatest rivalry in pro sports. The funny thing is though, I’ve never really opened up to you the reader and the fan on what that’s been like for me since I started working for Montreal Hockey Now while still covering the Bruins for Boston Hockey Now.
Thursday marked eight years since my father passed away and leave it to my 11-year-old daughter Maddie, as she always does, to soothe my hurting soul and make me smile, but she didn’t stop there. As we ate lunch on Thursday I was telling her how the hockey world has slowed down over the last week. For the first time since COVID stopped the 2019-20 season in March, 2020, and like everything else in the world, turned the NHL schedule upside down and backwards, everyone working in and around this league is finally getting a bit of the taste of what a normal offseason tastes like. Yes, we basically just have August, but still, a sense of normalcy is back.
Anyhow, back to Maddie saving the day. So when I told her the news cycle is slowing down and I was trying to figure out what to write about (by the way, to you readers who suggested story ideas on Twitter, I’m on it and they’re coming), Maddie suggested I write about how ‘Papa’ (my Dad), would’ve found it so funny that I cover the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. Is it me or do kids just see the obvious answer more than adults? So, here I am, finally telling you what it’s been like to see, again, the greatest rivalry in pro sports from both sides.
Trust me, I always tune in for Red Sox-Yankees but I’ve been a fan and a reporter watching both, and still, to me nothing beats Bruins-Habs. Maybe it’s because my job has taught me so much about not just the rivalry but both sides of it. The players, the coaches, the management, but most of all the fans. There’s no doubt if need be, they’re likely dropping the gloves just as Chris Nilan and Jay Miller or Lyndon Byers did so many times on the ice. Still, I’ve witnessed the respect between both fan bases so many times thanks to this job. There’s nothing like seeing Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins fans throwing back postgame Jameson shots at McLean’s Pub in Montreal or Porter’s Bar and Grille in Boston and then trading good-natured jabs.
As I stated above, I grew up right outside of Boston and as you might imagine, the Montreal Canadiens were not well-liked in my house and family. Some of my earliest memories were watching the Boston Bruins on the long gone TV38, and then when I turned 8 in 1982, going to Boston Bruins games at the old Boston Garden with my grandfather (season tickets in Loge 7, seats 11 and 12), until the famous ‘Last Hurrah’ exhibition between the Bruins and Canadiens on September 26, 1995 before the then-named FleetCenter opened that October. God I miss the old Garden!
Just under six years after that my grandfather passed away. Six months after that I was on the Boston Bruins beat, covering the team for the Boston Metro for the season opener of the 2001-02 season and watching Ray Bourque’s No. 77 head to the rafters. I should note, I was also at the old Boston Garden on December 4, 1987 when Bourque gave No. 7 back to Phil Esposito and donned 77 for the first time.
My first time covering a game in Montreal was Game 6 of the first round of the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs series the Montreal Canadiens won in six games. Right, then and there, my appreciation for Montreal Canadiens fans and the city of Montreal was born, and it’s been a pleasure to learn what Canadiens fans, the team and that city are all about since then. With all due respect to Bruins fans or any other sports fans in North America, there is no more passionate and knowledgeable fan base in North American sports than Canadiens fans.
I was also there when José Théodore stole the show again in Game 7 of the 2004 first round series between the Bruins and Canadiens at the FleetCenter.
Or how about one of the greatest games I’ve ever been to as a fan or a reporter?
Game 6, first round, 2008. The night the Bruins announced they were back and tied the series after trailing 3-1.
Yes, the Montreal Canadiens absolutely throttled the Boston Bruins 5-0 at the Bell Centre in Game 7, and yes, I was (happily) trapped in Brutopia on lower Crescent during the riots and watched a police car blow up outside, but that series was the rebirth of the rivalry.
The Boston Bruins would sweep the Montreal Canadiens in the first round the following season but that was a prelude to arguably one of the best series I ever covered, the seven-game epic battle in the first round of the Bruins’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup.
I can confirm that if the Boston Bruins lost that game, Claude Julien was getting fired and that Bruins core, that would make it to Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, would’ve been blown up.
The next time the two teams met in the Stanley Cup playoffs, I was covering the rivalry from the other side. I had been living in Montreal since the summer of 2012 and at the time, I was freelancing for NHL.com, TSN and CTV. Those two years there cemented a place in my heart for the city and my friends I made during that time were there for me when Dad fell into his final days and passed on August 4, 2014. Three months before that though, former Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K Subban provided maybe one of the top 5 electric moments I’ve ever covered as a sports reporter or seen as a fan.
Just under a week later, Subban was kissing then-NBC analyst Pierre McGuire after the Canadiens won another Game 7 in Boston.
I moved back to Boston in 2015, and was on just the Bruins beat until this past January. I took over Montreal Hockey Now and luckily I found Marco D’Amico to join MHN. Since then he’s become one hell of a reporter. One thing I preached to Marco when he started, and have to so many young reporters, is while it’s difficult for sure, you need to bury the fan of your team to be objective and successful in this business. Covering both sides of this rivalry has surely helped me do that, but it’s also made me a bigger hockey fan and made me appreciate both teams and cities so much more.
Somewhere above, I know my late Dad and grandfather are smiling and loving this like I am. Thanks Boston, thanks Montreal, and thanks to Maddie for urging me to write about covering the best rivalry in pro sports!