I've always been a New York Rangers fan.
I followed them on TV as a youngster. I have a 1960s poster on my bedroom wall. I saw a handful of games at Madison Square Garden in the 1980s, back when the average guy could get a ticket at a decent price.
I haven't been to a Rangers game at MSG in quite a while. Last time I looked, it was almost impossible to get a ticket for anything south of $100. I won't spend that kind of money for a game. Any game. Thirty bucks is about my limit.
So where do I go to root for a hockey team? It can't be the Adirondack Thunder. The sports editor of the newspaper can't go out and cheer for local hockey team.
I've been to a couple of New York Islanders games since they moved to Brooklyn. You can get a ticket for less than $20, which is quite a find in today's market (if you don't mind an obstructed view from the upper deck). I even had a stray thought or two that I might — gasp — become an Islanders fan. But, no. That's a bridge too far for a Rangers fan.
Ditto for the New Jersey Devils. Boston? Sorry, but my Yankee loyalties prevent any consideration of the Bruins. Montreal? I'm still mad at the Canadiens for leaving the historic Forum, and besides, the ticket price thing comes into play again.
I read a story last year about the Canadiens moving their AHL team to Laval, a northern suburb of Montreal. And so last Wednesday afternoon, I was in my car heading north to Canada.
I'm not at all averse to long drives to sporting events, often by myself. I go to New York a couple of times a year for Yankee games; back when the Expos were in Montreal, I'd make the trip two or three times a year. It's just the strange life of a sports nut with an unusual work schedule.
It's a life that can be hard to explain to normal people, like the Canadian customs officer at the border. The conversation went something like this:
"You're driving to Laval, for a hockey game?"
"Are you meeting someone there?"
"Are you a hockey player?"
"So you're going alone to Laval to watch a hockey game?"
This went on for a little bit until I produced the ticket — thank goodness I bought it online ahead of time — and that won him over. A half hour later I parked my car at the Metro station in Longueuil.
I had a couple of hours to kill in Montreal, which I didn't mind at all. It's the most beautiful city in North America. The Metro is clean and efficient. People politely queue up into lines. Sort of the anti-New York City.
Place Bell is a new arena at the northern end of a Metro line that goes to Laval. Walking into the seating area, the abbreviated upper deck immediately made me think of Lake Placid's Olympic Arena. It has the brightest lights I've ever seen in a minor-league rink, to the point where I wished I'd brought a baseball cap to block them out.
My potential new team is called the Rocket — formally, Le Rocket de Laval — and it's not hard to notice that the language difference right away. Public address announcements are made in two languages, but promotions are done strictly in French. That doesn't bother me. After all, I'm in Quebec, where the French is the mainstream language.
I didn't hear any English being spoken around me and I wasn't brave enough to try out my very rocky schoolboy French, so I didn't talk to any of my neighbors. The language on the ice is universal, however, and I had a pretty good seat 10 rows up from the ice.
It enjoyed it, the hockey was good, but I didn't really get into it as a fan. The free cowbell stayed in my coat pocket — sorry, I'm not a cowbell kind of guy — and the Rocket losing 3-2 to Syracuse probably put a bit of a damper on it. Also, I wasted a good deal of time writing notes and taking pictures for this blog. Welcome to my life.
Afterward, it was back to the Metro and into the car for the three-hour drive home. I breezed through U.S. customs, but somewhere around the Keene Valley exit at 1:30 in the morning, the whole idea of becoming a Rocket fan fell apart. It's too far and too much trouble, even for me.
The day was not a total loss. The cowbell makes a nice conversation piece on my desk. I can put Place Bell on the list of sports venues I've visited. And any day spent in Montreal is a good day.
As for my hockey loyalties, they will remain the Rangers ... on a TV screen.