Last year, through the whole season, I delayed the decision.
There was a sticking point for me. Simply put, I always make fun of people that show up to a Habs game wearing a jersey with some name on it like Laraque, Lapierre, or one of the Kostitsyn brothers. Not that I have an issue with people liking those players, it's just that there's no knowing how long they're going to be around for.
So my conundrum last season was whether I take the initiative and wear the number of my current favourite player, or at least wait til this season to see if he was still part of the roster.
Clearly I made the right decision, because I would have been stuck wearing #41 on my back to every game this year, and probably be getting side long dirty glances from fellow Habs fans in the stands - and on the streets - despite the fact that we're all routing for the "CH"!
So instead of choosing a player that currently laces his skates for the Canadiens, I decided that whenever I got my first ever Montreal jersey, it would have to have a name on the back that was a symbol of the teams strength and class. It would have to be someone who; like the storied franchise, represented our history, longevity, and the 24 Stanley Cups that La Flanelle has captured.
It would have to be #4, Jean Beliveau. Captain. Ambassador. Legend.
Fast forward to Christmas morning 2010. Nearing the halfway point of the season and I STILL haven't bit the bullet and bought myself a jersey. But I had vowed that it would definitely happen this year. With the team in the midst of a road series slump, my faith was wavering a touch. And then it happened.
I took the gift box that was handed to me and slowly eased it from its wrapping paper. Inside revealed the plain green box of Simons Department Store on rue St Catherine. I was expecting a holiday sweater like the one I had opened just hours earlier. But as I peeled back the tissue paper, staring up at me was the bleu, blanc, et rouge of a coveted Montreal Canadiens home jersey. The perfect white "C" emblazoned on the left chest, and the beauty of the number 4 peeking out from one sleeve.
I literally caught my breath. A tear welled in each eye. And as I lifted the prize from it's box, turning it around ever so slowly in my hands, the letters spelling BELIVEAU unfurled into perfect vision.
I was spellbound. Shocked. In disbelief.
I was ecstatic!
I carried that beauty on a hanger, all the way to Toronto. Jean and I made our debut together on my sisters back yard ice rink Boxing Day night, as I celebrated the season surrounded by family. All of whom are Leaf fans. But I had a feeling of immense pride as I skated around that rink, stick in hand, making tape to tape passes with the boys.
I've always known what it was to be a true fan of the Montreal Canadiens. But that night, I felt different. I felt like there was just a tiny little piece of Jean Beliveau inside me. That I too was an ambassador for the most incredible hockey franchise the world has ever seen.
Tonight will be the first time that I get to watch my beloved team hit the ice, while I sit ever so proud with #4 on my back. I will wear it with joy, and feel honoured that the best name I could possibly have picked is across my shoulders. And it will bring them luck on a tough road trip - of that I am sure.
I'm so glad that I waited. I'm glad that I dropped the "1" from behind the "4", and will forever wear the name of a legend on my back. It's something that I will always be proud of, and something that I know people will look at many years down the road, remembering Our Ambassador.
And to you M. Beliveau - if by some strange piece of luck you should ever stumble across these words:
Thank You for representing us in the incredible fashion that you do. I will do my best to represent you the same way, every time I don my jersey bearing your name.
Go Habs Go!