“When the Canadian lost in overtime, I heard people say if they play like that all year they’ll make the playoffs. But let’s see, that’s impossible. You have to be patient with all young people! The trophy is in a few years.”
This sentence does not come from the mouth of a late-night talk show panelist, columnist or Martin St-Louis.
No, the one who says it is “Aunt Alice”, who at the age of 96 is perhaps the Canadian woman’s biggest fan.
The one who watches hockey the most
“I must be the person in Quebec who watches hockey the most. I just have to get this done!” says the kind lady, laughing.
We went to see her last Tuesday, at her lovely home in Thetford Mines where she lives alone, steady on her feet, even though her centenary is approaching.
It’s the idea of her nieces, Raymonda and Lucette, who were amazed to learn how their aunt Alice, the one who almost never misses a Canadiens game, sets up her winter evenings.
“Except when I have visitors, I don’t want to be stupid!” however, specifies Alice Labonté.
When we arrived, an hour before the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Mme Labonté is in deep discussion with his daughter Thérèse.
Gallagher calms down, Slafkovsky in Laval
The program includes performances by Brendan Gallagher. Like many other “analysts”, “Aunt Alice” is calmed by the game of a persistent attacker.
But one concern remains: “If he gets injured again…” he fears.
She is also not impressed with the performance of Juraj Slafkovski, even though the first choice finally scored a few days earlier.
“I saw him talking about his goal, as if it was normal. But it’s been a while since he scored.”
“I think you should go to Laval.”
She misses her Arthur
We sit at the table where Alice Labonté places a plate decorated with fruit, vegetables and pâté. In the corner of the kitchen there is a stove, which was installed there the same year as its owner, 1951.
A cast-iron giant, quite the opposite of the small screen mounted on the counter, where “Aunt Alice” can listen to her pre-game broadcasts while making dinner, before going into the living room to listen to the game on flat ground. the screen that his children gave him for his 80th birthday… in 2007.
Her house is perfect, enough to make Mr. Clean blush with envy.
She never wanted to leave her, even when her husband died 17 years ago. She takes care of that, apart from a few other physical tasks that she entrusts to one of her sons.
To pass the time, Alice cooks especially delicious “pinotte butter” biscuits, which we also had the privilege of tasting. She takes care of her flowers. Colors.
And hockey is played several nights a week. Not only that Canadian: Mme Labonté can also watch the Kings game to get news from Philip Danault.
On the day of our visit, she wondered if the Avalanche game would be broadcast after the CH game. Alice was missing “her” Artturi Lehkonen.
Rogatien Vachon and his premonition
“Aunt Alice” never set foot in the Forum or the Bell Center.
But the love story between the Canadian and her goes back several decades. Even if it was put on hold for a few years, with the arrival of the Nordiques, geographically closer to Thetford Mines than Montreal.
M’s brother-in-lawme On Saturdays, Labonté invited them to watch CH on his television, at a time when these devices were still a rarity. The whole family went there by bus… until the day Alice and her husband became television owners themselves.
They were also among the first to own a color television in Thetford Mines, Alice remembers.
A facility that allowed them to welcome players like Réjean Houle, Gilbert Perreault, Marc Tardif and Rogatien Vachon to their home on Saturday night.
During their junior year at Thetford Mines, they came to watch the Canadian with one of M’s sonsme Labonté, also a hockey player, before going out on the town.
“One time we were watching the Canadian and I said to Rogatien: “Can you imagine one day being you, the goalkeeper?” He didn’t seem to believe it,” she says.
But what happened next would prove that “Aunt Alice” was right!
PK and KK
However, the one who most cemented the relationship between Alice Labonté and the Canadian is PK Subban.
Her PK The one she fell for for the same reason as most of the defender’s fans: his charisma and his game that is as flashy as his style, she tells us as last Tuesday’s match against the Lightning prepares to kick off.
She’s also become infatuated with other players over the past few years, including Jesperi Kotkaniemi (“Aunt Alice” seems to have a soft spot for the unloved in the organization…)
“I thought he was so brave, that little fellow, to leave Finland and come and live here, with his mother!” she explains.
Since “KK” left, “Aunt Alice” explains that she has become a huge fan of Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. They are even “too easy to love”, she emphasizes.
“Cole, with his big smile … Canadians are lucky to have young people like them,” she also said.
Harvey-Pinard or Xhekaj?
It could also be Rafael Harvey-Pinard, but Mme Labonté still hesitates.
The confrontation is about to happen when Jon Cooper, the Lightning’s head coach, appears on the screen. Alice exclaims, “We’ve seen him for years, but he doesn’t age! She still has smooth, smooth, smooth skin.”
She also says she’s surprised that Arber Xhekaj – “the one with the name that’s impossible to pronounce” – is a solid fighter. She won her a few days ago when she saw him on her television, dressed in a black and red suit.
“Maybe he’s my next favorite after all,” says “Aunt Alice.”
“Aunt Alice”, the head trainer
When she looks at the Canadian, “Aunt Alice” settles into her rocking chair. She turns off the lights in the living room, turns the volume on the TV to 11.
During breaks and breaks, to stretch her legs and stay awake, she sometimes gets up and walks around the living room.
A notebook and a pen lie on a small table. “Kent Hughes,” “Martin St-Louis,” “Vincent Lecavalier”: she jots down the names of staff and players.
Because she doesn’t have a cell phone or internet. Therefore, it is impossible to consult HockeyDB to find any information.
“If I miss a moment of the match, I have to wait until the next morning to see it again,” she points out.
Because no, the lady doesn’t just listen to the pre-game shows from different networks – with her “talkers”, as she calls the panelists – and then the game.
Sometimes he also looks at those who follow matches, but also sports news.
“Alright, let’s get started!” it erupted when Jake Allen conceded for the second time in seven minutes.
“Sometimes I give them advice,” Aunt Alice also explains.
“I’m telling you if I was there with them…” she then warns, suggesting that with Alice Labonté as head coach, the players would be interested in playing 60 minutes.
Especially Josh Anderson, who he can’t wait to wake up to.
There she used the opportunity to criticize Michel Bergeron, who said a few days earlier that the Canadian could reach the playoffs if he played every night like he did against Vegas.
“He there, when I heard him say that, I couldn’t believe it!” spear Mme Labonté, who also watched this famous game, lost in overtime until the very end… around 1 am.
But “Aunt Alice” is not always so harsh towards her “little ones” from Canada.
And that’s despite witnessing 22 of the team’s 24 Stanley Cups, a glory that seems more and more distant as the years go by since 1993.
Like Kent Hughes, she advocates “patience,” she repeats.
When CH pulls back in the third game thanks to quick goals from Nick Suzuki and Michael Pezzetta – which she finds rather comical with his big eyes – “Aunt Alice” gives two shouts of happiness: “They’re so happy when achieve!”
The friendly “Aunt Alice” represents everything we mean when we say that Canadian is more than hockey.
Before our meeting, she told us on the phone that these evenings she spent looking at him are undoubtedly one of the reasons why she still lives alone in her house, at the age of 96.
Whether he wins or loses, the Canadian is a friend who accompanies him through the cold winter evenings.