Written by Dina Petropoulos, Guest post to AllHabs.net
OUTREMONT, QC. – I met my husband, a diehard Habs fan, in 1998. At that time, he was taking French classes at McGill University in an attempt to better speak the language. He was working on preparing for an oral book report. The book he chose, “Le Chandail” by Roch Carrier.
Nick grew up in the heart of Outremont, he played hockey during the 1970′s at the local arena and was even coached by the then aspiring hockey executive, Pierre Gauthier. Nick played hockey in the lanes of Outremont with Anglophones and Francophones. He did not like speaking French, but hockey mattered more than that. Nick often says, “The game is played on the ice Dina, language doesn’t matter.”
Even though Nick enhanced his French oral abilities during those few months at MGill University, Nick continues not to speak French. He knows how, he just does not want to. His mother tongue is Greek. He went to Guy Drummond, Outremont High School, later to Dawson and McGill — the “English system.”
When Nick was not in school, he was either at the arena, in the lanes or at the Forum. Nick grew up with hockey, hockey, and more hockey.
The then Anglophone (the term allophone was not thrown around as much) recalls his first watching Montreal vs. Chicago Stanley Cup Game 7, alone, in the basement of the home his parents still own — it’s on Stuart, just below Van Horne, walking distance from the Outremont arena. Nick recalls the moment that Jean Beliveau hoisted the Stanley Cup. “Dina, I cried because I knew it was Le gros Bill’s last game.” The Stanley Cup — sacred words for our little Nick, sacred words for our middle-aged Nick!
Later, during his teens, Nick’s friend Manny shared his season tickets with him. In those good old days, Nick could afford to eat at the Forum. The basics, “un Coke et un hot dog svp.” Everyone understood. Get the food and go sit down. He remembers a time, 1986 to be precise, when he sat behind the net and watched game 7 between Montreal and Hartford. “Le but!” “Goal scored by number 32, Claude Lemieux.” Nick recalls, “Dina, we could not hear the announcer. Who cared to hear the announcer anyways? Le but is what mattered. Le but.” Funny, he never says “the goal.”
A few days after we married, Maurice Richard died. Nick waited in line at the Forum to pay his last respects. He attended the funeral, all the while respectfully wearing his new black tie.
Nick is a first generation Montreal Canadiens fan from Greek descent. He is an Allophone, or what has been commonly referred to as an ‘ethnic’, a Greek, an Anglo. He watches his Habs religiously, and discusses the games with his 95-year-old aunt who finds herself in and out of the hospital these days.
Nick’s aunt, Thia Katina (an immigrant who spoke some English) loathed the Habs. She was an avid Maple Leafs fan until Chris Chelios walked into the Habs dressing room. A Greek? And so started Katina’s love affair with “les Canadiens.” She watched religiously on CBC and listened to Danny Gallivan. Chelios may have left the Habs. Katina remained and discovered RDS.
Katina, who continues to spend the summers in Greece where she recently buried her husband, answers Nick’s annual question. “Thia, are you going to come back this fall?” “Sure Nick, although my heart tells me to just stay in Greece, I do have some interest to return: Les Canadiens.” She giggles. And even now, from her Outremont home, she cannot see very well but when she hears “le but” and the loud clapping, she knows, “ta pedia to valanai” (the boys just scored.)
Just this past Saturday afternoon, she fell asleep during the game. I happened to be there, taking care of her. As I walked into the living room to see if she needed anything, she surprised me, “Dina, Pierre Houde said the numbers too fast and I fell asleep dear. What’s the score? My eyes are too old and he’s speaking quickly again.”
God bless my Greek , Canadian-born, Quebecer husband, who so proudly watches his Habs, only on RDS and continues to refuse to speak French. Somehow, someway, for the last 45 years, he has managed to play hockey in the lanes of Outremont alongside Anglophones, Francophones, Allophones and anyone else who wants to play a good hockey game… on the ice.
“That’s where it is decided, Dina, on the ice.”