If you know me, you’ll know I’m a diehard Leafs fan. I was born in November of 1966, during the season in which the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup. I can’t imagine my parents thought about that. As French-Canadians, they were all about the bleu, blanc et rouge.
On Friday, March 27, 2020, our school celebrated Sports Jersey day. It was the end of Spirit Week, a way to help lift students and families during the COVID-19 period of self-isolation and learning from home. I wore both my treasured Leafs jersey AND my Habs jersey, poking a little fun at this classic hockey rivalry. That Friday was 16 1/2 years to the day that the Habs sweater passed into my hands. It was also 16 1/2 years to the day that my Dad passed away.
Two weeks before he died, we celebrated his 60th birthday. Almost all of his friends and family came. My sister and her husband hosted more than 100 people. It was his last ‘good’ day.
As part of this milestone birthday, I bought him a Habs jersey. He put it on that day. It made him smile. He only wore it once.
My gift to him included two tickets for a pre-season game between the Leafs and the Habs on September 29, 2003. My Dad died two days before.
My son Sebastian came in his place. The day itself was filled with stories. The ACC almost didn’t allow us to go because I had bought wheelchair accessible seats and neither Sebastian nor I were in a wheelchair. I wore the Habs jersey but couldn’t stop myself from cheering for the Leafs, who won 3-1. We spent 30 minutes after the game chatting with the Habs goalie coach, who my Dad had known for years and we missed every opportunity for player autographs despite being ‘backstage’.
The Habs jersey became mine. When I wear the jersey, I hear the sounds of the game. I picture the 8 year old version of my son. I see us cheering each Leafs goal: him wearing Leafs’ blue and white and me sporting my Habs jersey. I feel the excitement of being allowed into the back halls of an NHL arena post-game time.
But the jersey tells so much more. I recall the grief of having lost my Dad. I see his cheeky grin when he pulled the jersey from its wrapping at his 60th. I remember post-game phone calls, where Dad and I channeled our inner “Don Cherry and Ron MacLean”. I hear him telling my children countless stories about the imaginary hockey player called Cackledoony. I reflect on both the times he enjoyed and the times he missed being their pépère. I remember our relationship: bumps, bruises and tender moments.
When I pull on the jersey, I wonder how he would have gotten along with all the special and influential people in my life he never had the chance to meet. I think about the estrangement and exclusion from my family and imagine his reaction. I retrace the drastic shift my life took almost immediately after his death.
These stories and more are embedded in the fabric of the jersey. It is a tangible artifact from a significant time in my life. I continue to wear it from time to time. To remember.
All this from a Habs jersey.
Hey, Roch Carrier! I’ve got my own Hockey Sweater story… and it’s a good one!!