Sometimes I sit in amazement and laugh at the fact that a guy from Arlington, MA, who grew up a die-hard Boston Bruins fan and hated the Montreal Canadiens, is now covering both teams. For me, it’s the biggest rivalry in professional sports, but I’ve never really spoken to you about what it was like since I started working for Montreal Hockey Now while covering the Bruins for Boston Hockey Now .
Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of my father’s death. Let my 11 year old daughter, Maddie, as she always does, soothe my hurt soul and bring a smile to my face, but she didn’t stop there. As we had lunch on Thursday, I told him how the hockey world had slowed down over the past week. For the first time since COVID shut down the 2019-20 season and upended the NHL schedule, everyone working in this league is finally getting a taste of a normal offseason. Yes, we barely have August until now, but even so, a sense of normalcy is back.
Anyway, back to Maddie saving the day. I told her the news cycle was slowing down and I was trying to figure out what to write about (by the way, to readers who suggested story ideas on Twitter, I’m on it and they’re coming to it), suggested Maddie J write about how ‘Dad’ (my dad) would have found it so funny that I was covering 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 was like to see the biggest rivalry in professional sports on both sides.
Believe me, I’m still listening to the Red Sox-Yankees. Although I’ve been a fan and a journalist, nothing beats Bruins-Habs. Maybe it’s because my job has taught me so much not only about rivalry, but also about both sides. The players, the coaches, the management, but above all the supporters. There is no doubt that if necessary, they would drop the gloves, just like Chris Nilan and Jay Miller or Lyndon Byers have done so many times.
Through this work, I have also witnessed the respect between the two fanbases so many times. There’s nothing quite like seeing Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins fans throwing back post-game photos of Jameson at McLean’s Pub in Montreal or Porter’s Bar and Grille in Boston and then trading jabs in a good mood.
Generally in a good mood, anyway.
As some of you reading this right now may know, I grew up just outside of Boston. As you can imagine, the Montreal Canadiens weren’t very popular with me. Some of my earliest memories were of watching the Boston Bruins on the long gone TV38. Then when I was 8 in 1982, going to Boston Bruins games in Old Boston Garden with my grandfather (season tickets in Lodge 7, seats 11 and 12) to the famous ‘Last Hurrah’ exhibition ‘ between the Bruins and the Canadiens on September 26, 1995.
God, I miss this building!
Six years later, my grandfather passed away. Six months later, I was on the beat for the Boston Bruins for the Boston Metro. I covered the 2001-02 season opener and saw Ray Bourque’s No. 77 heading for the rafters. I should note that I was also at the Old Boston Garden on December 4, 1987, when Bourque returned No. 7 to Phil Esposito and donned 77 for the first time.
My first coverage of a game in Montreal was Game 6 of the first round of the 2002 Stanley Cup playoff series which the Montreal Canadiens won in six games. At that point, my appreciation for the fans of the Montreal Canadiens and the city of Montreal was born, and it was a pleasure to learn about the fans of the Canadiens, the team and this city. With all due respect to Bruins fans or any other sports fan in North America, there is no longer a passionate and knowledgeable sports fan base.
I was also there when José Théodore stole the show again in Game 7 of the 2004 first-round series between the Bruins and the Canadiens.
Or how about one of the greatest games I’ve ever attended as a fan or a journalist? Game 6, first round, 2008. The night the Bruins announced they were back and tied the series after leading 3-1.
Yes, the Montreal Canadiens absolutely strangled the Boston Bruins 5-0 at the Bell Center in Game 7, and yes, I was (luckily) trapped at Brutopia on Lower Crescent during the riots and saw a car from police explode outside, but this series was the revival of the rivalry.
The Boston Bruins would sweep the Montreal Canadiens in the first round the following season, but it was arguably the prelude to one of the best series I’ve ever covered, the epic seven-game first-round battle of the race. Bruins at Stanley 2011. Cup.
I can confirm that if the Boston Bruins lost that game, Claude Julien would get fired and the core of the Bruins going to Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals would have been blown.
The next time the two teams met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I was covering the rivalry on the other side. I had been living in Montreal since the summer of 2012 and at the time I was a freelancer 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 passed away in his final days and died on August 4, 2014. Three months before that, however, former Montreal Canadiens defenseman PK Subban provided perhaps one of the top 5 electric moments I’ve ever covered as a sportscaster or seen as a fan.
Just under a week later, Subban kissed then-NBC analyst Pierre McGuire after the Canadiens won another Game 7 in Boston.
I returned to Boston in 2015 and was on the Bruins’ beat until last January. I took over Montreal Hockey Now and by the grace of God I found Marco D’Amico to join MHN and he’s been one hell of a journalist ever since. One thing I preached to Marco when he started and to so many young reporters was that while it’s hard, you have to bury the fan in yourself to be objective and successful in this business. Covering both sides of this rivalry sure helped me do that, but it also made me a bigger hockey fan and made me appreciate teams and cities even more. Somewhere above I know my late father and grandfather are smiling and loving it like me. Thank you Boston, thank you Montreal, and thank you Maddie for inspiring me to write on the cover of the best rivalry in pro sports!