ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA — When people think of things you can inherit or are born with, their minds will immediately jump to physical features, mental characteristics, or things like belief in different religions. Likes, dislikes, and passions only ever factor into the equation some of the time.
But for Jay Baruchel, being a Habs fan is a part of his DNA. He was, quite simply, born to be a fan of the Montreal Canadiens. It informs his identity as much as what religions he was raised in or anything else he inherited from his parents.
Anyone who has followed writer, actor, and director Jay Baruchel for any length of time will know that he is as die hard a Habs fan as they come. He is frequently seen sporting Habs gear no matter the occasion and happily discusses his favourite team whenever he’s given the opportunity.
Hockey and Habs fandom have been a part of his daily life for as long as he can remember, and they always will be. This is the story that Baruchel sets out to tell in his 2018 memoir/hockey book Born Into It: A Fan’s Life.
Born Into It is divided into three sections similar to a hockey game and aptly titled first, second and third period, respectively. The first serves as both an introduction to his status as a Habs fan as well as a look back at how he got to be that way in the first place. He remembers wandering into his parents’ room at three or four years old and being asked which team he liked. To his father Serge Baruchel‘s delight, he answers that he likes “the red men,” thus beginning his lifelong love for the Montreal Canadiens.
Baruchel embraced his otherness from a young age, using what both his mother and father taught him to steel himself against the world, including when they moved squarely into Maple Leaf’s territory in Oshawa and back to Montreal again. His love for the Habs ebbed and flowed, and after a rough patch as a teenager, he returned, as he put it, to “the religion of my youth” as a young adult.
“Some seasons I am more heavily invested than others, but the team will endure and so will my connection to them, as all roads will always lead me back to montreal. the Montreal Canadiens are in me, as they have always been.” – Jay Baruchel, Born Into It (page 43)
The final chapter of the first section deals with a both heartwarming and heartbreaking chapter about his late father. He describes his father’s love for ‘superhumans’ such as as Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard and Jean Beliveau, how his heritage as a Jewish immigrant in a predominantly Québécois neighbourhood taught him to fight, and how, by some miracle, Serge had acquired a signed letter from Bob Gainey and a glossy signed photo of the entire 1986-’87 team, including Patrick Roy, Chris Chelios, and Larry Robinson.
His father had been troubled by drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, and passed away at the age of 49 due to an overdose, but Jay likens his father’s story to that of the Habs during the late 1990’s. They were “hopelessly middling and suffocated by history, against the Habs of the seventies, electric and iconic and afraid of no-one. To know and understand the Habs now is to study who they were then. Just as to know and understand my dad now is to try to get who Serge was then.”
The second section begins, after a short personal anecdote, with a section where Jay writes emails to the Bruins, the Maple Leafs, and the Nordiques, outlining the reasons why he hates them but also why the Habs wouldn’t be the Habs without them. In a chapter based around the infamous P.K. Subban trade, Jay talks about the Habs as a representation of a collective spirit of a minority and how this is part of what makes the Habs so addicting and intoxicating to watch. A short, fictional story about passionate Habs fans named Aldo and Sean caps this off and in essence proves why being a Habs fan means nobody is ever really alone.
The most poignant part of the second section, however, is when Jay talks about fighting in hockey, including a detailed outline of the Good Friday Massacre on April 20, 1984. It isn’t just about real world hockey fights and how fighting made hockey feel more real and sincere than today’s NHL, though.
The chapter serves as the framework for a discussion about making the first Goon movie, which Baruchel co-wrote with Evan Goldberg. Baruchel’s love of hockey, and his fighting spirit that came courtesy of his father, were part of the inspiration behind Goon’s main character Doug Glatt. He grew up in a house where both parents loved and revered hockey fighters like Chris Nilan, so writing a movie about hockey fighting came naturally to him.
Baruchel is lucky enough to call Nilan a friend; Nilan even gave Born Into It his seal of approval on the back cover on the book. At his Just for Laughs gala on July 25, 2013, Baruchel was surprised when Geoff Molson appeared onscreen with a jersey featuring Baruchel’s name, naming Baruchel an honorary captain of the team. Seconds later, Chris Nilan walked out onto the stage with that same jersey. Nilan, much like Baruchel’s father, had suffered from addiction, and his status as a survivor and a fighter made him a hero to a generation of Habs fans.
In the final chapter of the second section, titled ‘Twenty-Five’, Baruchel both laments and has hope for the future of the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL as a whole. The world of hockey has gotten larger, making it that much harder to get quality players and that much more difficult to qualify for the Cup during the gruelling 82 game season.
The franchise lost their mojo, and perhaps some of their relevance, a long time ago when they were champions of the old style of hockey, but it is not impossible to get that mojo back. All the Habs need to do is let go of the past and look to the present, and that maybe it is time to redefine what it means to be the Montreal Canadiens. Romanticizing the past will do nothing to fill their empty trophy case that has sat that way since 1993.
Born Into It ends on a a very interesting note in that Baruchel says that winning games doesn’t matter, that winning the Stanley Cup does simply because we are the Montreal Canadiens. We choose to let all of the victories and defeats matter because we, as fans, are so intricately connected with our team and their successes and failures.
For Baruchel, the Habs are as important as anything else in his life. Just like anything, they will love and seduce and break his heart, they will trick him into being cocky, and maybe someday they will bring the Cup back to Montreal. But, as everything does, the season will end every year and Baruchel, like the rest of the Habs fans, will go through the process again and again no matter how hopeless it seems. He lives for the Habs, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
This book is so much more than just a memoir: it is both a look at Jay’s incredible life as well as a love letter to both hockey and the Montreal Canadiens. For Baruchel, hockey is Canada’s living art form, and he lives that art form in such a way that it bleeds through the book and allows everyone else to live it too. It is so personal that it feels like you’re sat having a conversation with him one-on-one rather than reading the stories and poetry out of a book.
I highly recommend this memoir for any dedicated or casual hockey fans who want a read that is deeply informative and full of the love that only a true fan could inject into each and every page.
By Cate Racher, Hockey History Researcher.
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