on December 16, 2008
This is a great rarity: a sports history book that is superbly written and researched. It no doubt helps that D'Arcy Jenish, as well as being a Habs follower, is also a historian ("Epic Wanderer", about David Thompson and the Mapping of the Canadian West, is one of his books). His history of the Canadiens is founded on new interviews and an exhaustive search through a century's worth of newspapers, which gives his work both factual authority and a vivid immediacy. It reads at an exciting pace. The chapters on recent developments, and what went on behind closed boardroom doors, are fascinating. And he doesn't let his love of the team blind him to its mistakes and missteps over the years. A surprisingly revealing introduction by Bob Gainey is a nice bonus.
As a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, there is a place in your heart where you remember that it was ok to belong to a team. You remember the players well, because most of them were part of the team for longer than one or two years. You remember the games because they determined your place in the playoffs and how difficult it would be to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup, not simply whether you would make the playoffs and get past the first round or not. Your remember the tradition of having your friends around to watch games and how, through the years, much like a team, the friends changed somewhat, some remained, some were added, others added girl friends or wives. But in the end, you remember a time where the business of hockey was about fun as much as anything else, and that it "mattered", as Bob Gainey states in the preface to this book.
This is a fine scholarly intrusion into the history of the Montreal Canadiens, written for the centennial celebrations of the team in 2009. It bristles with interviews, with stories and with some of the not so accessible information that only an academic historian might be interested in hunting down. Stories of epochs, players, games and coaches abound and the reader quickly understands that there is more than sports and entertainment at stake here. Jenish portrays what has become a piece of Canadiana, something of a cultural and social institution that one treats with respect, even when addressing the less than glorious business aspects of the game.
In the last part of the book, Jenish recounts the rather discouraging seasons of the early 2000s, where the team made the playoffs, sometimes, by the skin of its teeth and where rapid elimination was the norm. Then, there is this season in 2008, where the team finishes first in the Eastern division and hope rises again. As these notes go to the Amazon.ca quadrant of cyberspace (2015), only 3 (4?) players are left from that team. There is hope as the Habs are contending for first place in their division and among the top teams in the league. There is hope that something of this institution that represents so much for the people of Québec (and Canada) will again become "Les Glorieux" and something of hockey and sport will be right with the universe once again.