Hockey on the Streets of Montreal

Eric Bates didn’t grow up playing hockey so, of course, the best time to start is when you’re intoxicated in Montreal.

I was in downtown Montreal when the alcohol got to kickin’ in. The cabbie had just dropped me somewhere off of St. Laurent Boulevard and after a less than an exciting pregame (which consisted of me drinking alone to excess in midst of a dark hotel room) I was ready for an adventure.

I distinctly remember muttering to myself something along the lines of, ‘I probably should get some food in me,’ as I paid my fare and stepped out of the cab. The fresh memories from two nights ago about the effects alcohol has on an empty stomach were stuck in my head. I was not about to go down that road again. I had a water bottle in my hand but it was full of a liquid that would most certainly not help me sober up. Since it was only around 10:15, I decided to go find a sports bar, figuring I’d get food there before going out.

Canadian sports bars are very similar to American sports bars, except they have better beer, French-Canadian cuisine and play a Canadian version of Sports Center that’s god awful. I’m not kidding- if I wanted to torture an inmate at Guantanamo, I would just put an episode of “Sports Centre” on a continuous loop. If I had continued watching, I think I would’ve went blind.

I was expressing my opinions out loud to no one in particular (yes, it was that kind of night) when a group of 9, 20-somethings came in and sat down at the bar with me.

This shirt says it all.

After about 5 minutes, one of the guys named Peter started talking to me out of the blue. We talked about what I was doing in Canada and why they were out on the town that night. Apparently, it was his friend’s birthday and they wanted to go bar hopping. As they were about to leave, they asked if I’d like to partake in the festivities. Sure, I thought, what could go wrong?

Somehow, at the third bar, the topic of conversation was switched to how much I loathed hockey and Canadian Sports Center. Peter was a good sport about it and sympathized with me, but he probably was the only one that did.

Canadians are lovely people. From my travels throughout Canada I found that almost every stereotype about them being pleasant are, for the most part, accurate. But I have to give a word of warning to you all: Don’t mistake their friendliness for a lack of competitive verve. Nothing pisses off a Canadian more than an arrogant American.

I still don’t know how the argument got started, but we both were pretty drunk, so I assume that played a role in what would be the evitable decline of rational thinking and debate for the rest of the night. I do remember this friendly exchange between myself, a French-Canadian and Peter:

French-Canadian: How can you even say American hockey is better than Canadian hockey? You don’t even like hockey!
Me: Because Canadian’s are like our cute little cousins who never do anything important! Besides, Canada hasn’t won a Stanley cup since, what, the early 90’s?
Peter: At least it was Montreal that won.
Me: Congratulations, at least you all aren’t total failures.
FC: Everyone in the NHL is from Canada!!
Me: That still doesn’t explain why none of you frozen lake lady ice skaters can win a championship!
FC: Yeah OK, you want to talk shit about hockey but you don’t know the first thing about playing.
Me: I bet I’d run you and your flunkies up and down a rink!
FC: Yeah? Well we can play right now, with all of us. My house is a 10 minute walk from here.
Me: Seriously?
Peter: Oh god.
Me: Let’s do it. I’ll show you pussies how real men play sports.

Ever heard the saying, “Don’t write checks that your ass can’t cash?” Well, I should have kept that in mind before I opened my mouth. I am 6’2″, and athletic but the only time I’ve played hockey was on concrete in torn up sneakers during 7th grade P.E. class. Besides, I’m black–and how many black people do you know that play hockey?

Everybody seemed willing to participate in our little contest. Thanks to the liquid courage running through my veins and having no experience what so ever with the dynamics of hockey, I was more than eager to get my knuckle-puck on. Thank you, alcohol.

We got to “FC’s” apartment about 15 minutes later. At first, I mistook the place for a hockey locker room. He had two nets, six

Just for reference, this is Sidney Crosby's family dryer. Canadians take hockey pretty seriously.

sticks, a bunch of orange street hockey balls along with ice skates and a multitude of real ice hockey gear.

After we rounded up the gear, we went outside and picked teams, but there was something that still wasn’t clear to me: Where the hell was this game taking place? It was summer, so no frozen lakes were available and there weren’t any open parking lots around.

Me: Where are we holding court, my man?
FC: Right here, in the street.

I laughed and didn’t believe him at first, but the serious look on his face, accompanied by his friends setting up the goals about 35 yards away from each other, told a different story. He lived on a long street that was full of parked cars and not wide by any means. This isn’t ideal for anybody when eight grown men are going to play hockey. I had a feeling that things would most certainly be broken.

The technical aspects of the game itself weren’t anything exciting, but after the ball dropped, the match devolved into something that looked like a poorly choreographed dance of raging violence. I’ve heard of “no blood, no foul” before, but I swear, this game was not stopped for anything. I was swatting at peoples chins, being checked into lampposts and high sticking was a common occurrence. All of this vigor did catch up to us though.

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that you could turn your back on a person, but never on a drug. I took that maxim to heart, especially tonight, since our drug of choice turned us into a bunch of big, drunken men wielding large hockey sticks without having any protection at all on. With this in mind, I kept my head on a swivel.

I also took my duties as, what I believe is called “The Enforcer,” quite seriously and was scoping the next person I was going to lay out. I was on the right half of the street, looking towards the opposing goal when all of a sudden I heard footsteps to my back left. In my peripheral, I caught a figure rocketing towards me. I braced for the worse as the birthday boy checked me, plummeting me into one of my teammates and sending him shoulder first through the driver’s side window of a random car.

I’m not going to lie;what I saw next was fucking gruesome. My teammate emerged from the car with multiple lacerations across his face and neck. The immediate area around the car was a mixture of bloody glass and clothing. He was bleeding heavily and everyone was extremely concerned for him. Even though I gasped in horror, my teammate picked up his stick, looked at the birthday boy calmly and said, “Nice check, but we better get out of here. I don’t think the neighbors will be happy.”

Needless to say, I had an exciting night. After I left my friends, I talked my way into a club and partied with some of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes until the place closed, but that story is for another time.

Eric Bates writes for TheFanManifesto. The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

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