As the Washington Capitals boarded an Air Canada flight in Chicago Friday, they were met by a sign that read, "Go Canadiens."
"We just thought we'd have a little greeting for the Capitals," said the smirking copilot.
"How about if we yell, 'Go Russians'?" he was asked.
"Aaah, we're trying to forget that and it's not easy," was the reply.
All Canada is trying to forget what the Soviet national hockey team did to the NHL All-Stars a week ago, but it has not been possible. Blame for the debacle has been heaped on the "fat cats" of the NHL, but critics console themselves with the hallucinatory belief that their beloved Canadiens would have prevailed where an allstar team failed.
In the Gigolette bar, across Atwater Street from the Forum, the use of English usually guarantees some elbow-bending room, as Francophones edge away from the speaker. Friday night, however, mention of the Soviet series brought barflies closer together, perhaps to erase the numbing effects of the minus-10-degree (Fahrenheit) cold outside, but more likely because of the opportunity to rid themselves of frustrations.
"Those guys just didn't care," said an angry man with accented English and Ville-Emard hockey jacket. "For the Russians, it was life and death. For our guys, it was a holiday in New York. Why did they pick guys like (Darryl) Sittler and (Denis) Potvin when they were hurt? They should have sent young guys like (Pierre) Mondou and Bernie Federko. The Russians are good players, but there are a lot of good players in Canada. Our old guys were tired by the last game."
"I've been depressed all week," said another English-speaking French Canadian.
In Brasserie Le Rendez-Vous, located in the southeast corner of the Forum itself, it took little groundwork to elicit opinions from those unsuccessfully trying to drown hockey sorrows.
"They're a bunch of slugs -- overpaid, overfed and underworked slugs," said a suntanned man in a gold vest who had returned early from a Florida vacation last week to watch the Challenge Cup. "Football players practice five hours a day, but these guys just practice an hour and a half. They should work full time like everybody else. Seven years ago, everybody said the Russians played well because they were in condition and if they had played at midseason, Team Canada would have won easy. Now they know. The NHL is never in condition."
Letters to the editors of the Montreal newspapers have been no kinder to the dethroned heroes of the NHL.
Initial media reaction here to the Soviet victory was extreme -- the Gazette said that "the season is over."
Columnist Ted Blackman in the Montreal Star wrote of "the Canadian hockey fan's unreal expectations that somehow a nation of 22 million playing hockey for profit will continue to dominate a giant of 220 million playing hockey, at the upper level, for feverishly sought political prestige. Inevitably, the Soviet program would prevail and it will in future challenges, barring the odd upset."
There is near unanimity now in one controversial aspect of the sport: virtually everyone feels in the wake of the smooth-skating Soviets' success that North American hockey must emphasize skating, passing and shooting, rather than rough play.
Commenting on violence in Quebec junior hockey, following a wild firstperiod brawl in Laval the night after the loss to the Soviets, the Montreal Star's Mike Boone wrote, "The players will tell you it's the coaches' fault: 'If we don't fight, we get benched.' The coaches, in turn, blame it on the team owners and claim they are only following orders. The owners say they are businessmen who have to think about the balance sheet.
"By promoting a goon show, they feel they're giving the public what it wants. However, the fans are staying away in droves. The fans want to see good hockey. The goons have got to go. Once they do, maybe the hockey players will come back."