North of the Border

Silver Lining

MONTREAL, Quebec--This is a town a hockey fan can feel at home in, even if he was the worst student in French Ex.

For starters, the National Hockey League's headquarters are here.

Then there's La Presse, the main French-language daily. Not all that thick a newspaper, it still manages to go overboard on its hockey coverage. The equivalent would be The New York Times running five full pages of hockey news each day.

But at the heart of it all are the Montreal Canadiens, winners of more Stanley Cups than any other team, the raison d'etre for the world's largest French-speaking city.

Therein lies the reason why I'm not huddling in some miserable little motel near St. Lawrence University as the Larries and their nearby rivals at Clarkson College prepare to pummel the visiting Harvard hockey team tonight and tomorrow night.

I came here not only because Canton and Potsdam, N.Y. are two of the Earth's most god-forsaken hick towns, but because the Crimson is in deep trouble.

This road trip is one of the toughest parts of any ECAC road trip; in the North Country, they count the years that go by between two-game sweeps by visiting teams. And if things weren't bad enough, on Thursday, Harvard will have to take on ever-tough Providence College on the Friars' ice. There is more than a slight possibility that the Crimson icemen will start their exams with a 4-7-1 record.

If ever there were a time for a Harvard hockey team to seek spiritual support, this is it. So like a Moslem to Mecca, like a Catholic to St. Peter's, like a nerd to Cabot, it was time for this hockey fan to make his pilgrimage to the shrine at the corner of Atwater and Lincoln, the Montreal Forum.

I spent most of Rosh Hashanah hanging out in the Sports Cube, ate junk food on Yom Kippur, but you can be sure I was appropriately reverent when Guy Lafleur came over the boards and left a spray of snow as he dashed toward the Detroit Red Wings' net.

"Les Habitants" are barely .500 this season, and scalpers have had to settle for face value. But I'm certain a little bit of that old-time hockey religion rubbed off on me as le bleu, blanc et rouge (or le tricoleur, les glorieuses, or whatever else they call their team here) dumped on some losers from Detroit, 5-1.

On the other hand, one re-invigorated fan might not be enough for the Crimson south of the border this weekend, and Bill Cleary & Co. weren't where they should have been last night--at the Forum. Even worse, St. Lawrence's uniforms look just like Montreal's.

Maybe I could transfer into McGill...