On most Saturday nights, my dad, brother and I would make the trek over to my grandparents’ house for a sleepover and some quality time. And On March 21, 2009, that was no different. The five of us gathered around the TV, our quality time being characterized by the same thing for each of our visits:
Hockey — more specifically, Montreal Canadiens hockey.
Although I grew up in the Boston area, my father, Doug Martin, hails from Montreal. He spent the first 10 years of his life up north, where he laced up his first pair of skates and fell in love with his idol — the late, great Guy Lafleur. Eventually, he made the move down to Belmont, Massachusetts where he spent the rest of his childhood. But his time in Montreal — and the affection he developed for hockey — stayed with him even after the move.
Following the move to the Boston area, his loyalty would be tested more than ever living in the city of his team’s biggest rival — the Boston Bruins.
Growing up, I heard the story of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal between the Canadiens and the Bruins so often that it felt like I was there. The Canadiens trailed the Bruins in game seven, 3-2, in the closing moments of the third period. So distraught by the score, my dad went upstairs to take a shower and began to cry. He knew that he would be made fun of by his classmates at school the next day. He lived in Boston. What would he expect, for the fans to be nice to him?
But as he came downstairs to witness the final moments of his team on the ice before elimination, he saw his hero. With 1:04 left in the third period, Lafleur tied the game at three goals apiece. And the rest was history. The Canadiens entered overtime with confidence and swiftly eliminated Boston en route to their fourth-straight Stanley Cup.
My dad knew that when he had kids, he wanted to pass down his love of hockey. But replicating his childhood hockey fan experience for his children was going to be nearly impossible. He knew he was spoiled growing up. Who gets to see four-straight Stanley Cups? NHL teams today are lucky to win one before falling into hockey purgatory for the next few decades.
And although I never got to see four consecutive Stanley Cups, on that March night in 2009, my dad showed me a bit of what I was missing. He showed me the magic of sports.
And it was magic I’ll never forget.
The Canadiens fell behind early in the game to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their opponent never looked back, clinching an easy 5-2 victory.
But on that night, it didn’t matter that the Canadiens lost. My dad had succeeded in his ultimate goal: to have me — just six at the time — jumping up and down about a hockey game.
That night, he taught me to never stop believing in my wildest dreams, no matter how impossible they seemed. And for my six-year-old self, my wildest dream was to see the Canadiens come back and win that hockey game.
So as the second period began, I started to motivate the team from 300 miles away. It didn’t matter that the players couldn’t hear my chants, I screamed at the TV nonetheless. I believed that I could single-handedly will Montreal back into this hockey game.
And when forward Maxim Lapierre scored the Canadiens’ first goal of the night, that was the magic — the magic my dad helped me to feel.
But for the next decade, the Canadiens’ magic went away.
To put it simply, the Canadiens sputtered. Aside from one Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2014 and some impressive play from Michigan alum and short-term captain Max Pacioretty, Montreal either bowed out in the early rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs or failed to qualify altogether. After years of drafting busts in the forms of forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Alex Galchenyuk, things didn’t look good for the Habs. Our TV often didn’t blare as it used to on those Saturday nights. And my dad and I weren’t screaming back at it as much as we used to.
But then 2021 came along.
In a year full of pain and frustration from the COVID-19 pandemic, my dad and I turned to our favorite source of comfort:
Like the years prior, it seemed like the Canadiens were going to let us down. Dragging their way into the postseason as the worst playoff seed in their division, it seemed like our TV was in danger of being shut off again.
As Montreal fell into a 3-1 series deficit against Toronto, our hands hovered over the power button on the remote. But then the Canadiens began to fight back, just like I had willed them to do more than a decade ago.
For each goal Montreal scored to bring them closer to the series victory, my dad and I would silently embrace in the middle of our living room, celebrating just like our favorite players did on TV.
And in game seven, the Canadiens finished the assignment I tasked them with years prior. They completed the comeback against the Maple Leafs and advanced to the next round.
And they didn’t stop there.
Montreal made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round in the form of a sweep and then took a commanding 3-2 series lead over the Vegas Golden Knights, who featured a deadly forward tandem including Pacioretty that kept the series tight. Suddenly, the Canadiens were one win away from the Stanley Cup Final, and as I waited for my freshman year to begin at Michigan a former Wolverine stood in my team’s way.
And there was only one person I wanted to watch this pivotal Game Six with — my dad.
In such a big moment for my dad and me, of course the finish had to be dramatic. The game headed to overtime tied 2-2, meaning the next goal was set to be a crucial one, one that could potentially end the series.
As right-winger Brendan Gallagher carried the puck up the ice for Montreal on an odd-man rush, I just had a feeling. This was it. Gallagher moved the puck to center Philip Danault, who quickly passed it to left-winger Artturi Lehkonen. With a quick wrist shot, Lehknonen slipped the puck past Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner. The Canadiens had won.
For the first time in my life, the Canadiens were headed to the Stanley Cup Final. Out of all the people I could have witnessed the moment with, it was only right that it was with my dad.
June 24, 2021 marks a special night in my life.
It was the night I finally felt the magic again. A night my dad wished for since the day I was born.