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Park-Ex Habs fans all in for Canadiens in Stanley Cup battle

By Joe Bongiorno Park-Extension News

Montreal Canadiens fans in Park-Extension celebrate their team’s first Stanley Cup final in 28 years. As the city reawakens from 15 months of lockdown, Park-Extension’s Habs supporters are backing the Canadiens to go all the way against last year’s champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Bond to a new home

C.B. Singh, the president of the India Canada Association of Montreal, has been a Canadiens fan since he immigrated to Canada from Uttar Pradesh, India in 1966. At 82, Singh fondly remembers going to see Guy Lafleur at the Forum during the golden era when the team dominated the NHL.

Fast-forward to the 2020-2021 season, few had predicted glory for the Habs, but after squeaking through the regular season into the last Canadian playoff spot with the fewest points of any qualified team, the Canadiens came back from a 3 -1 series to beat the Maple Leafs before sweeping the Winnipeg Jets and dispatching the Golden Knights in six.

Singh has watched all the playoff games and is “more than happy” with the overtime semi-final win that launched them into the finals. “I love them,” he beams. “You can’t believe it.”

Although the current team is not as star-studded as in former years, Singh remains confident that the Canadiens will triumph in this year’s final. “99.9 [per cent],” he says, rating the team’s chances. The Canadiens’ underdog status has been their advantage, Singh believes.

Stacy Sgoumpopoulou is watching the first game of the series at Cozmos Café Bar. Hailing from Kalamata, Greece, Sgoumpopoulou found a second home in Montreal when she moved to Canada eight years ago. The Canadiens helped make her feel like she was a part of the city, she explains.

“I didn't know anything about hockey,” Sgoumpopoulou says, describing the first game she watched with her sister on a night out. “The Habs scored, and all of the sudden, all the people [were] so excited. They started hugging each other, and that was one of the best feelings because as a person that just arrived in Montreal, it [was] so welcoming. That made me feel [at] home. It made me fall in love with the Habs.”

Unsurprisingly, Sgoumpopoulou is hoping for a Canadiens victory. “It would mean a lot, not only for me, but I think for everybody here in Montreal. I hope it brings people together and not separate us […].

A Park-Ex family tradition

Fans also gather at CaffeNeo where Fro Arvanitis is watching the game with two family members. It is their first outing for a drink since the pandemic.

“The Habs are beautiful to watch,” says Arvanitis. “When you least expect it, they start to move forward. This is why we’re here, and I believe it is aligned to happen. They should never have made it this far, but you can’t say it’s based on luck anymore.”

But for Arvanitis, watching the Canadiens duke it out for silverware isn’t just about the good old hockey game. Born and raised in Park-Extension, she has been a fan since 1975. “I became a Habs fan, and my brother was obsessed with the Habs,” she said. “My dad was for the Toronto Maple Leafs, so there was always a clash in the house, but Saturday nights were all about hockey.”

Fro’s nephew, Philip Arvanitis, is a die-hard Canadiens fan who watched every game of the regular season. Although he thought that this year’s playoffs would end in “just another disappointment,” he feels the team has turned a corner and has found its heart.

“The Habs are going to win the cup,” says Fro. “Everything’s aligned.”

Philip agrees that victory is on the horizon. He predicts a Habs win in six. “My mother was born in 1960, and the Habs won the Stanley Cup. I was born in 1986, and the Habs won the Stanley Cup. My sister was born in 1993, the Habs won the cup. Now, two weeks ago, my sister just gave birth,” he smiles. His only regret is that he can no longer share the experience with his father.

Montreal reawakened

Philip believes that the team’s success has come at an important time after over a year of isolation. “It’s a reawakening,” he says. “Like a bear coming out of hibernation.”

For fans in Park-Extension, hockey is more than the sum of its parts. It is a community experience. “Hockey is therapy,” says Fro. “When you have nothing to talk about, you talk about hockey. It totally transcends. It’s not just a male bonding thing. There are women out there talking about hockey. It’s exploding.”

The Montreal Canadiens lost 5 -1 on the night, but Habs faithful will be crossing their fingers for an instant comeback in game two of the series on Wednesday night.

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