Art imitates life for Habs fan/comedian Toth

Eric Toth, out of goalie equipment
Courtesy of the author

How often have you dreamed of playing for the Canadiens… then found yourself doing so in comic form, in the pages of the Canadiens’ official magazine?

Award-winning Canadian comedian Eric Toth, a native of Hamilton, Ont. – in the heart of Leaf Nation – recently sent me his story, and I thought it was remarkable enough to ask him to flesh it out for readers of Inside/Out.

He kindly has done so, and scanned the entire wonderful tale to support it with illustration. (Here’s Eric with the Rocket, Maurice Richard.) Go below to check it out in full detail.

And thanks, obviously, to Eric for all of his work to share this.

Eric Toth is a member of the Canadian Comedy Award winning sketch comedy troupe The Imponderables. As a member of the popular sketch troupe, Eric has made numerous television and radio appearances (CBC, CTV, Comedy Network, Global, Much Music) as well as performing at clubs all over Canada and the United States (Second City, Just For Laughs, Chicago Improv Festival). Additionally, Eric teaches comedy writing and performing at the Humber School of Comedy.

ERIC TOTH
Special to Habs Inside/Out

From the perspective of a 10-year-old boy, I had a life-changing experience on May 24, 1986. It was Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Calgary, and the Canadiens were holding on to a 4-2 lead and poised to win their 23rd Stanley Cup. I was sitting with my Dad and brother on the couch nervously watching the game; every time a player was hit, or a shot was fired, I flinched and rolled around under my blanket like a lunatic in a straitjacket.

With seconds left, a lone Calgary player came out from the corner of the boards and tried to stuff the puck underneath the goalie. Patrick Roy dropped to the ice and stuck out his right leg, making a scissor-kick attempt to stop the puck. Bodies crashed and fell over top of Roy, and the referee blew the whistle.

Roy stood up from beneath the pile of bodies that collapsed on top of him, held out his glove so the linesman could take the puck out, and preceded to skate calmly away from the mess toward an empty corner of the ice, all the while lifting both of his shoulders up high and twitching his head from side to side.

Three things changed for me that night.

The first was that I got to stay up late, well past my bedtime, to watch television. I knew all along that exciting things really do happen after I’m sent to bed. No more fooling this kid.

A lifelong fan is born

Secondly, looking at my Dad sitting there wearing his bleu, blanc et rouge Jersey, enjoying all the laurels bestowed upon him by virtue of being a Habs fan, I willingly accepted my destiny and became a lifelong Canadiens devotee.

I thought to myself: “Does this Dad of mine really know what’s best for me? Maybe I’ll try eating vegetables, too?”

Finally, I was now worshipping two gods – the heavenly Father whom I accepted through baptism and visited every Sunday at church, and a more earthly version, born in a manger somewhere in Sainte-Foy, Que., who I watched from his pulpit every Saturday on La Soirée du hockey, the 21-year-old Patrick Roy.

I instantly became a member of the Montreal Canadiens fan club. It was the closest to the team a young boy from Hamilton, Ont., could get. I received my pink Canadiens membership card in the mail and promptly tucked it away safely out of sight from any wandering Toronto Maple Leafs fans who would surely find some way to poke fun of its girlish colour.

(Believe me, being a Canadiens fan in Ontario isn’t easy, but reminding any afflicted Leafs fanatic how many Stanley Cup wins the Canadiens have generally thwarts off their verbal attacks.)

My life began to play out exactly like the character in Roch Carrier’s classic short story, The Hockey Sweater. Except instead of idolizing Maurice Richard, it was Saint Patrick.

I bought a Canadiens road jersey and had Roy’s numbers put on the back. I cut his picture out of my Les Canadiens magazine, brought it to the barbershop and asked for his haircut. I pinned up my new Patrick Roy poster right beside my bed, collected every picture, and studied every story written about him in the newspaper. I would even twitch my head around and talk to my goal posts while playing net in road hockey games, just like Roy did on the ice.

Letter to the Canadiens

One lazy afternoon, when the rain cancelled our street hockey game, I decided to write a letter to the Canadiens expressing my admiration for Patrick Roy. I told them how I fell asleep most nights dreaming about being the goalie for the Canadiens, and coming up with heroic Roy-like saves to win the Stanley Cup.

I described my Canadiens-decorated room in detail, including the giant Patrick Roy poster I had in my room. Then I asked for an autographed photo of the hero himself.

I mailed the letter and continued to check the mailbox every day after school, flipping through mysterious white envelopes with my parents’ names on them. Which I later in life learned were called bills, which meant you had to pay for things like light, water, and even heat. What a scam!

About a month or so later, I got a large envelope in the mail from the Montreal Canadiens fan club. I tore it open and there was an autographed Patrick Roy team-issued card inside. In the photo, he stood with his helmet-mask off in front of a white background, his autograph etched on the back. I promptly placed it on my windowsill with some other photos like he was a member of my family.

Included in the beige envelope was the newest addition of Les Canadiens magazine with a picture of Claude Lemieux on the cover; in the photo he was holding a bouquet of flowers while an empty suit of armour was erected behind him; his white home jersey draped around its back. Weird, I know.

Then I noticed that in the bottom left corner of the issue’s cover there was a headline for a story that read: “ÉRIC À la rescousee … and he saves the team”

I quickly turned to the story to find a cartoon about a boy who falls asleep dreaming about being the goaltender for the Canadiens. In the story, coach Jean Perron is disturbed because both of his goalies are stuck in New York because of a major snowstorm. Eric’s sister, who is watching the game with her brother, shouts at Perron from over the Forum boards that her brother is a great goalie and could fill in quite admirably.

Eric gets the start in goal

Naturally, Perron decides to start the young 10-year-old fan in net. The boy promptly gets into uniform, because the Canadiens always have spare goalie equipment for small children, and takes his position in net.

Eric then goes on to play marvelously, defeating the Minnesota North Stars 1-0. The team hoists Eric over their heads like he’s the Stanley Cup.

Tucked away in his office, GM Serge Savard gets on the phone and informs the press that they’re signing the young goalie to a contract. (Rumour has it the contract was a 15-year-deal for $67.5 million.) The crowd chants “Bravo Eric! Vive Eric!”

And "Wake up, Eric! Eric! Eric!"

Eric awakens to see his sister shaking him awake, and informs him that he was dreaming. "And wow, what a dream…"

I couldn’t believe it! I read the story over and over and showed it to anyone who cared to see it. Could the Canadiens have really taken my letter and turned it into a story so Habs fans everywhere could read it?

The package was absent of an explanatory note, or any other indication that the story was written about me. I was left to assume that the story was written based on my fan-club letter, and to this day, I still wonder if it was.

So fast forward 20 years, and instead of actually becoming the starting goalie for the Canadiens, locked into a 15-year $67.5-million contract, I’m a comedian who is paid to perform most nights for beer tickets. To be more precise, I’m a sketch comedian in a four-person troupe called The Imponderables.

We had toured across Canada multiple times, and by the end of our third straight summer, we decided to concentrate on performing locally in the Hamilton and Toronto area. We’d grown exhausted of sleeping on couches, riding the Greyhound bus, and losing the company of our girlfriends and wives for four months at a time.

The Montreal Fringe festival was always our favourite stop on our cross-Canadian adventures, and not just because of the 99-cent pizza slices and the fact that you could buy alcohol at the dépanneur, but because the top show at the Montreal Festival was awarded a spot at the world-famous Just For Laughs comedy festival. For any comic, the Just For Laughs is equivalent to an NHL player going to the Stanley Cup finals.

Having come home empty-handed from the previous three Montreal festivals without the prestigious award, I tried to convince the other guys to take one last shot at it. We would put together the best show we could in our bid to win the award.

Our competition would be stiff that year, our main opponent being an air-band that would not only lip-synch the songs, but also mouth the conversation bands usually have between songs. To be defeated by an air-band – comedy’s version of the Toronto Maple Leafs – would surely be a humiliation.

Channeling the Forum ghosts

To be certain we were fully prepared for the festival, I asked the guys to walk up Ste. Catherine Street to the most storied building in hockey history, now an AMC multiplex theatre, and stand at the marked centre ice area to channel the ghosts of the Montreal Forum.

For good luck, we called upon the spirit of Montreal players past, but we couldn’t call upon just any former Canadien. In fact, Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat and Rocket Richard’s names weren’t even mentioned in our little pep talk. We had to call upon the players who best symbolized the comedian’s spirit, players such as Lorne (Gump) Worsley, l’ours de Joliette Marcel Bonin, and the famous André (Red Light) Racicot.

Two weeks and six strong performances later, we were standing on stage accepting our Just for Laughs award. The success of our show that year was based on the strength of our strongest sketch, a parody of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater story.

Instead of watching a young Habs fan from Quebec idolize hockey great Maurice Richard, the kid grows up idolizing Céline Dion, and in a mail- order mix-up, he accidentally receives a Shania Twain CD. We eventually animated the piece ourselves to match the original National Film Board version, and posted it on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65qlRHLTUoY

So now instead of falling asleep dreaming of being the new rookie goalie for the Canadiens, who consequently was sent down to the Canadiens farm team in Hamilton, our comedy troupe chugs along with the hope of one day being able to quit our day jobs and actually perform for real money.

“And wow, what a dream!”

 


BELOW: Eric Toth’s 1986 Montreal Canadiens Fan Club membership card, the photo he received of his hero, Patrick Roy, the Canadiens magazine featuring "his" cartoon, and a photo of Toth and his comedy troupe The Imponderables. From left: Dave Brennan, Jon Smith, Tony Lombardo, Eric Toth.

 

33 Comments

  1. RetroMikey says:

    Being from Hamilton, I never hear of this guy in Hamilton nor on TV. Strange. I’ve heard of Daniel Lanois, Teenage Head, etc.. but not about him. Sory Eric.

    “We will win the Cup only with Carey Price in the nets”

  2. Eric37 says:

    …and thanks everyone for the nice comments!

  3. Eric37 says:

    Thanks Dave, I had a great time writing this story down. Hope everyone enjoys it! All the best, Eric.

    P.S. Check out the Maurice Richard exhibit in the Musee Canadien Des Civilisations.

  4. G-Man says:

    I remember seeing one in the 70’s called “Nos Glorieux”. I’m not sure who did it but it was a pretty funny comic book. One thing I can remember vivdly was seeing the guys on the bench, Lafleur, Shutt and Lemaire, with their skates crossed over the boards, like they were slacking off at work. Ah, the good old days!

    Gilbert

  5. The Teacher says:

    Hehe, don’t worry Naila, you’ll never look foolish.

    Thanks for the info BTW.

  6. Naila Jinnah says:

    The thing that underlines your words is Firefox, not the website. I hope you use Firefox or I look foolish.
    You can download an add-on for a different language dictionary. I, for example, have have downloaded the French language dictionary. The easiest way to do this is to right-click on a text box (ie where you type in your comments) and select “Languages” and then “Add dictionaries”.

  7. Yeats says:

    I thought NBC was picking up the All Star Game. I channel-surfed over to Versus in the hope of watching an episode of that hunting with Ted Nugent show and this crap was on. Pond hockey is something you play with your friends, not something you put on TV. This is no way to showcase the sport of ice hockey or any way to develope news fans. Only in an NHL skills competition could a player get beaten by a country mile (Brian Campbell) and be declared the winner in a skating race.

  8. The Teacher says:

    What a snooze-fest.

  9. calvee123 says:

    Thanks for the comments and reply stephen. I really think so much of the people in this great county of ours whom have the skill of both languages. I loved reading about your mother and her watching the Canadiens too with out the language skill. My kids are now taking French and I learn words from them here and there. For me it all goes back to when I started loving the Canadiens. I was about 6 yrs old and my neighbours were French. Their last name was Dumaine and they watched and loved the Canadiens. I would go over to their place and everyone was around the TV watching the Canadiens of the 70’s win, win, win. They were fans of the Canadiens, and then I was hooked as a fan also. I got to watch Ken Dryden play and after that I wanted to be just like him. I still have those memories in my head of saves he made. I still play and play the stand up type of goal, after Ken Dryden.

    Living out here in Alberta limits my exposure to the French language. I really believe there is such a aurora of the French Canadian culture which is brought forth in the hockey and through the broadcasts on RDS that can’t be taught. I love it when those guys on RDS laugh when they are doing the games. It tells me they are having such a good time and really enjoy their life that they spread the word of Laughter. I am going to learn as much French as I can to help me understand the broadcasts of Les Glorious.

    Being a Montreal Canadiens fan, really is not just about the games, it really is about a life long love affair with the whole Canadiens thing. I have a buddy whom is a fan too, he went to the game last November when Montreal beat Boston by a 6 to 2 score. He and I were to go together, but he left this place of employment and I stayed. We didn’t keep in touch so he went with out me. In my life I do plan to go to a game in Montreal.

    Anyway good chatting with you stephen.

  10. The Teacher says:

    Alfie seems to want the car. lol.

  11. The Teacher says:

    I believe you have improved your spelling since the third grade as well Dave. It is always a pleasure to read your articles.

    Growing up, reading about past Habs players solidified my love for the team. Hopefully the young ones today are deriving the same experience when reading what you write.

    In my case concerning the Spelling Bee, I believe I was scammed, I had to spell Hallowe’en, :( (apostrophe included, no one got it and the next word was “friendly” pfffft)

    Ok, so how does one get going with regards to getting the ball rolling? Does Jay in P.A. want to organize it again or is he ready to pass the torch?

    Is the Canadiens organization willing to do anything with respect to providing us with a block of tickets to buy?

    The Teacher

  12. Ian G Cobb says:

    Great stuff Eric and Dave! How this first class, famous, hockey club has touched so many of us is truly magic.!

  13. P St. Pierre says:

    A great story. Thanks for sharing!

  14. stephen says:

    Eureka!

    With the help of some astute forum readers over at rds.ca, I believe I have come up with our answer!

    “On a volé la Coupe Stanley”, by Arsène and Girerd.

    http://pan.priceminister.com/photo/731333255_L.jpg

    As far as I can tell, Frank, this is the one I can recall reading in my school’s library. Hope it’s the answer you were looking for!

  15. Dave Stubbs says:

    Worry was the wrong word, I agree. (I lost a Grade 3 spelling bee, Teach, which haunted me for years. I resolved to get much, much better. I believe I have.)

    As for the summit, any plans for one must be formulated by the readers of the site. They conceived the first – Inside/Out “management” had nothing to do with it until it was completely organized, so it’s up to you all to pick up the torch, as it were.

    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  16. The Teacher says:

    Ahahaha, that’s what I thought you would say ;) Thanks for the candid response.

    I agree, I would rather you spend your time finding unique material for this site as well.

    I would also agree that I’m in the minority (although I wouldn’t say I “worry” about it), but I can’t help it. So sue me :P

    Oh, and I almost forgot to ask you. Are there any plans for a summit next year?

    Thanks,

    The Teacher

  17. Dave Stubbs says:

    OK, Teach, I’m going to agree with you on your point that this might seem a little petty.

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I hope you understand that I’d rather invest my time finding original material for Inside/Out and linking our readers to other sites than trying to bug our developers to find software that will unhighlight our, dare I say, British-rooted spellings. Which are Montreal Gazette style, by the way.

    I’m not being sarcastic or flippant here. I would suggest, however, that you are in the minority among our posters who worries about spelling…

    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette

     

  18. The Teacher says:

    I have so many thoughts that I can post in reply to this one, but I’ll suffice with saying that I wish more people in this province understood the value of communicating in two languages.

    There was an interesting article beginning on the Front Page of today’s Gazette. I found it interesting and slightly humourous.

    Mr. Dave Stubbs,

    There is one thing on this site that annoys me a tad. We are Canadian-based, are we not? Can we please find a dictionary that corrects Canadian words so that we don’t have words like “colour” under-lined in red?

    I would like your candid reaction to this post as I understand it might seem a little petty.

    Thanks,

    The Teacher

  19. stephen says:

    Hi Frank,

    You’ve just triggered a flashback for me, as I now remember that same comic book! I attended a French school in Ontario, and I remember leafing through that book (series?)in the library.

    After a quick search on google, I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Darn!

    Perhaps Mr. Stubbs knows something about it?

  20. stephen says:

    calvee123,
    Your story reminds me of my mum who, for many years and speaking no French, enjoyed watching the Canadiens on SRC, the French CBC. Like you, she always enjoyed the commentators candidly jovial spirit, and the sudden fits of laughter that would erupt amongst them.

    In the end, I think she preferred I didn’t tell her what they were laughing about, as the spontaneity of it all was part of what made it so special.

    Great post, calvee! Made me smile! :)

  21. calvee123 says:

    Living in Oil country (Northern Albeta) and playing rec hockey with my Hab jersey, I get lots of looks. But you know what, I could never change teams. People say stuff about the Canadiens, but really they are such a great organization, great team, it falls on deaf ears. It really is about what is in your heart. My heart has Montreal Canadiens in it. I have a step son who plays hockey and he was always a Oiler fan, and now he his a Montreal Canadiens fan. I can’t believe he has changed his team. We are both 100% speaking english, but he and I watch all of the Habs games on RDS and he loves them like I do. He has his own habs jersey which he wears too when he is playing goal.

    On to another topic, kinda related…
    I tried to watch the montreal vs pitsburg on CBC and it really was hard to watch because of the camera angle. The view seemed so poor cause they didn’t follow the play. I switched the station to RDS and the picture was so much better. I could see the play better because the camera angle was from a higher vantage point at the Bell Centre and the commentators were so much more entertaining even though I can’t understand most of what is said. I just think they do a better job with games. They even have fun, laughing on the broadcasts. I just wished I knew what they were laughing about and saying. In my life I hope to learn more French so I can understand what is said in those broadcasts.

    I have thought of going to live in Montreal because of my love for the Canadiens. I would do it because of that and to see the Montreal Culture. I think you people who can speak both languages are so lucky. If I lived there I’d learn french faster than just watching tv.

    Anyway that is my view from small town northern Alberta.

    Go Habs Go!

  22. Naila Jinnah says:

    Pretty cool story! Thanks for sharing!!

  23. calvee123 says:

    What a cartoon. Man I had that very dream too. I remember In my dream, being on the players bench and then getting to go in. What a dream. I’ve had that dream over and over. It was always in the Fourm, never the Bell Centre. I wish I was able to play there for real. I guess I am only able to play rec and dream when I can.

    It is funny how so many of us fans have had the same dream.

  24. theflower says:

    Wow that was a great story! I grew up in Kitchener and my father was the one who got my brother and I into the Habs in the 70’s. Unfortunately he passed away last year, but it’s those days as kids watching the Habs with my father that have made my whole life what it is today. My first pro game was with my Dad, who was a teacher winning a bowling contest and first prize was a trip to Montreal to see the Habs play the Flyers in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals of 1976. For a kid growing up idolizing this team, it was like a dream to finally see a real game, much less the Stanley Cup finals. Life has never been the same since. Funny story too how this all started. We are immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. My dad came to Canada in 1966 and he became a teacher here in 1967. When he started to teach, the other teachers asked him if he knew anything about hockey which he didn’t. So they gave him the rules and told him what makes a good team and so on. They of course were all Leaf fans. So after a few weeks, they came back to him and asked him if he had picked a team based on all they had taught him and of course watching some games. So he said, well based on your criteria and watching hockey, it is clear to me the team to cheer for is the Montreal Canadiens! Well you can imagine how upset they were with him and he said well there was just no comparison, based on what they said was the criteria for a good hockey team. So of course in 67′ the Leafs won the cup and all his teacher friends were bragging about how he picked the wrong team and how he proved he knew nothing about hockey. My Dad responded to these teachers that in fact, it was fine the Leafs won, because as he put it, even a bad team wins once in a while. He looked at the teachers and told them not to get to excited, because it would be a long time before they ever win another cup. He told them he would have the last laugh as this Montreal team was going to win plenty of cups in the coming years! Sure enough my father was right and to this day, I still believe his curse on the Leafs is why they haven’t won haha!!! My brother and I still try to watch every game we can together and sometimes now we wish our father was with us to see it all. I think he is with the other forum ghosts just spreading news of the greatest team of all and letting everyone who will listen hear the gospel!

  25. nsdom says:

    I remember all of this stuff! Because of the cartoon I had the same dream of being asked to play out of the stands.

    It looks like Eric plays at Dufferin Grove now. Maybe you should try playing on the hockey rink side!
    Thanks for the story.

  26. Moey says:

    Thanks Dave and Eric,

    That was really enjoyable. HNIC was on at our house every Saturday night when I was growing up, my mom is now 82 and she still talks about the Rocket.

  27. G-Man says:

    I can always remember being a Habs fan when I was growing up. Whenever I played street hockey I was Le Gros Bill, scoring goal after goal. This is a great fan piece by Eric Toth; especially the way those at the Les Canadiens magazine used the letter to create the story. I am always reminded of what a classy organization the Habs are and always have been. This is especially pleasant to read on a chilly Sunday morning in Montreal as I await tonight’s All-Star game.

    Gilbert

  28. N.B.habs fan says:

    Thanks guys,great read,I remember watching my first hockey game,when there was only black and white tv and we could only get 1 channel so we had to watch hockey on saturday night.There were 11 kids in our family and we all cheered for Montreal.now we only get Toronto on saturday nights .

  29. Sbah Reverof says:

    It’s amazing how those childhood memories never go away. I grew up admiring Robinson’s steady rejection of opposing players and pucks in his zone, Gainey’s quiet eloquence, Lafleur’s mercurial talent, and Ken Dryden’s unflappability (hope that’s the correct adjective). These first impressions of hockey have been with me ever since.
    ps-I was always scared of Savard and his dark, brooding aura as a kid, but that went away.

  30. sam says:

    I REMEMBER THAT CARTOON !!!!

    i f—ing remember it! OHMYGOD.
    that cartoon made me have boyhood fantasies about being asked to play goalie for the Habs on an off-night! lol.

    Eric was the lucky kid featured in it? a-mazing.

    wow.
    this is truly some kind of full-circle thing happening. it surely must count :)
    thanks for bringing it forward, Dave Stubbs! :)

  31. habitual says:

    The parody of The Hockey Sweater with Celine Dion is great. But I do not get the humour of a 10 year old boy dreaming of playing goalie for the Habs.

    Just wait, sometime real soon there will be a rash of injuries, and no one in Hamilton to call up and a comlete unknown in the form 53 year old life long Habs fan from Victoria will get the call and centre Kovalev and Kostitsyn.

    It’s gonna happen, I tell ya!

  32. stephen says:

    Wow, talk about bringing back memories!

    When I was probably about the same age as Eric in the story, I wrote the Canadiens, asking for an autographed picture of…wait for it…Stephane Richer. Yes, for whatever reason, he was my favourite player at the time.
    And I ended up receiving a picture just like the one in Eric’s story. Imagine my delight when, looking at Richer’s bio on the back of the picture, I discovered that we shared the same birthday. As a die-hard 10 year old fan, that birthday bond may as well have made me an official member of the team!

    What a terrific Sunday read! It’s always nice to remember how the seeds of our devotion were planted, and how they blossomed and matured over the years.

    Thanks very much Dave!

    ps: I had to smile at the Quebecois English on the fan club card: “This card certify that..”. Talk about authentic! :)

  33. Dave Stubbs says:

    Stephen, Eric sent me a little detail of this in an email, and I asked him to relate the full story. He sent everything along, then a hard-drive crash wiped out my computer. Sigh… so he sent it all back to me and this morning, at all-star break, I assembled the post.

    I think it’s a fabulous story, and believe it will remind other Canadiens fans of special events in their lives that have tied them to this team.

    My thanks to Eric again for his indulgence. And his parody of The Hockey Sweater is priceless. Don’t miss it at the link near the end of his story.

    Dave Stubbs

    Habs Inside/Out
    Sports Feature Writer, Montreal Gazette


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