Steve Shutt and I go way back. So far, actually, that he had no idea who I was when I introduced myself to him.
The bride gently cajoled me into making an effort to connect with Steve, an NHL Hall of Fame left winger and five-time Stanley Cup champion, when we attended the Montreal Canadiens Alumni game at The Q Centre in Colwood last week with my son, Chris.
I wandered down to the dressing room between periods and asked the first person out of the door if Steve had a moment to say hello to an old friend. The Habs official asked in a slightly suspicious tone wrapped in a French Canadian accent if Steve would recognize my name. I said no, but mentioned that his father and I were once neighbours.
The official, built like an NFL linebacker, frowned and shrugged without a word before disappearing behind the door. A couple of minutes later Shutt stepped out and hesitantly extended his hand.
Although he lived in Toronto, Steve spent the summer before his first season with the Marlies with his father in the apartments with a pool out front on de Salaberry Boulevard in Montreal. Steve had hung out occasionally with the resident hippies, yours truly and my friend George.
Although Steve remembered that summer from 50 odd years ago, he seemed a little unsure about what kind of creepy fan he may be dealing with. I mentioned George had an old rust bucket of a ’57 Chevy that we were going to risk our lives in driving from Montreal to California, and we had invited him along.
“That I remember,” Steve said with a wry smile. “I really wanted to go but my dad wouldn’t let me,” he added with a laugh. “Probably a great decision, looking back,” I replied.
He asked what year we headed out west, and I mentioned how we made a few bucks on the Habs by giving seven to one odds during the stretch in the late ’70s when he was a key cog on the team that wheeled in four consecutive Cups. Steve said to say hello to George and we shook hands again before he headed back into the dressing room.
I’ll remember that brief exchange for a long time, for reasons impossible to explain to anyone other than a Habs fan.
The bride understands now, although that wasn’t the case, especially on June 5, 1993, when I changed our birthday dinner reservations three times because the Canadiens game went deep into overtime. The good guys won on a goal by John Leclair, but the meal was a stark contrast in moods; me elated with an ear to ear grin, and Joan glaring at me cross-eyed across the table.
A trip to Vancouver for a Montreal game against the Canucks a few years back turned into a reckoning of sorts, however, beginning with the number of Montreal sweaters spotted on the ferry, the folks in similar garb we exchanged greetings with in downtown Vancouver throughout the day, the excitement that raced through her with a visible pulse when Tomas Plekanec, her favourite player, pressed up to the plexiglass within inches of her during the pre-game skate, the electric celebration that spilled onto the street following the 3-2 win.
“I get it now, Habs nation,” she said on the way back to our hotel. I still smile every time I think of the bride saying those six words.
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.