We all grew up as hockey fans and of course we all have our favorite teams. And many of us, as kids, when we would play hockey, we would dream about pulling on the sweater of the Habs, or Leafs, or Blackhawks, or Penguins, or whichever team. We loved hockey and we loved our team. Very few of us, however, would ever grow up to be good enough to actually represent our team. The number of kids who play hockey dwarfs the number of professional adult hockey players in the world. And the number of the professional players in the world dwarfs the amount who are actually good enough to make it to the NHL. But there are 30 teams in the NHL (31 come next season). Even if you defy all the odds and manage to make it all the way to the NHL and even manage to have a career, what are the odds you’ll actually be drafted by your favorite team? Well, one in 30, I guess. So, not great.
Whether or not professional players maintain their boyhood allegiances is the matter of some debate among hockey fans. Of course, you’ll go all out on the ice for your team. But if your team is not involved, in the back of your mind, do you still root for your childhood favorite? That’s why it’s so great when a player gets to play for their hometown team. But we often don’t think of the opposite. What happens when a player ends up on a team they grew up hating?
15 Nazem Kadri
We begin with Nazem Kadri. Kadri was born in London, Ontario, which is about a two hour drive from Toronto. So, while he’s not exactly playing for his hometown team, London is well within the Leafs’ “catchment area”, and you can reasonably expect Londoners to support the Leafs. Not Kadri though. Kadri was part of a perplexingly sizeable group of people in Southern Ontario that support the Montreal Canadiens. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t win anything for 50 years. Then again, the last time the Habs won anything was when Kadri was two, so what gives?
Well, Nazem cheered for the ‘bleu, blanc, et rouge’ because of his father, Sam. When Sam first immigrated to Canada from Lebanon, he latched on to the Canadiens (presumably not understanding the significance of the ‘e’ in ‘Canadiens’). Well, he was new to the country, so I’m sure Leafs fans can forgive him. Especially as his son has developed into one of the best two-way forwards the Leafs have had in years.
14 Malcolm Subban
The Subbans are another Toronto family who defied geography to support the Habs. Like the Kadris, the Subbans owe their support of the Canadiens to their father, who cheered for them upon his emigration from Jamaica. For eldest son P.K., this worked out great...for a while. P.K. Subban dazzled in the bleu, blanc, et rouge for six seasons, becoming a fan favorite, before he was controversially traded last summer to Nashville.
Malcolm, on the other hand, was drafted by the Boston Bruins. So he grew up in, and then was drafted by, a city that detests Montreal. However, it remains to be seen if Malcolm will ever really make Boston his home; he has only played two regular season games for Boston to date and has spent most of his time in Providence, in the AHL.
13 Vincent Damphousse
Vincent Damphousse, like Kadri, grew up cheering for the Canadiens, but was drafted by the Maple Leafs. Unlike Kadri, however, Damphousse is actually from Montreal, so his case makes more sense. But actually being from Montreal, one might expect that Damphousse grew up really hating the arch-rival Leafs. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop him from producing at a high level in Toronto, scoring as many as 94 points in one of his five seasons with the Buds. Unfortunately for Damphousse, the Leafs were trash during his time there and, actually, his trade to Edmonton (which saw Glen Anderson and Grant Fuhr go the other way) was one of a few deals that helped Toronto’s sudden surge in the early ‘90s. But don’t feel bad for Vinny; after one year with the Oilers, he was traded to his hometown and won the Cup in his first season with the Habs.
12 Shayne Corson
Interestingly enough, Edmonton traded Damphousse to Montreal for Shayne Corson. Corson’s career mirrored Damphousse’s in a few ways, in that it was the exact opposite. Corson, who was born in Midland, Ontario, grew up cheering on the Leafs and detesting the Habs. But, of course, when he was drafted eighth overall in 1984, it was by the Canadiens. Corson played for the the Habs for seven seasons before the Edmonton trade, and then later, would player another three and a half years in Montreal, before finally being able to suit-up for his beloved Leafs in 2000.
Corson quickly became a fan favorite in Toronto, but only spent three seasons there before he effectively quit the team in the middle of the playoffs in 2003 due to some combination of disagreement with head coach Pat Quinn and a flare up of his ulcerative colitis. His exit from Toronto is still the subject of some mystery to today.
11 Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo is an interesting case. He’s from Montreal, so you’d think he should be a Habs fan. And he was, briefly, as a very young boy. But as he grew a bit older (in the 1980s) he began to cheer for the Edmonton Oilers. He idolized Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr. Now, it wasn’t rare for non-Edmontonians to cheer for the Oilers in the 1980s; they were the decade’s best and most exciting team. But when a team routinely wins games 7-4, it’s strange that their goalie would be the one to attract fans, and not the high-powered offense. But that’s exactly what Fuhr did for Luongo. And Fuhr was a great goalie, no doubt.
Luongo loved him and the Oilers, so one wonders how Luongo felt when he was traded to Vancouver in 2006. Now, Edmonton’s biggest rival his Calgary, sure. But years spent cohabiting the in the Smythe and Pacific divisions have made the Canucks and Oilers significant rivals, too. Nonetheless, Luongo became arguably the league’s best goalie during his time in Vancouver and even won Olympic Gold there in 2010. That was, of course, before it all went sour and the notoriously demanding Canucks fans turned on him before his trade back to Florida. Oh well, he still has the best hockey Twitter account out there.
10 Milan Lucic
Milan Lucic did the opposite of Roberto Luongo. Growing up in Vancouver, Lucic certainly would not have imagined himself one day playing for his Canucks’ divisional rivals, the Oilers. But since signing for them last summer, that’s exactly what he’s been doing. And he’s been doing it very well, endearing himself to the Oilers’ faithful. But Lucic wasn’t just born and raised in Vancouver, he even played there in junior, excelling for three seasons as a member of the Vancouver Giants. What’s more, Lucic has even won the Stanley Cup in Vancouver...for Boston. Whether or not he will one day don the Canucks’ sweater he dreamed of as a boy remains to be seen, but seeing as how he still has six years remaining on his Oilers contract, he’ll likely be playing in Vancouver a lot, just for the visiting team.
9 Justin Schultz
Milan Lucic’s journey from Canucks fan to Oilers professional would have been familiar to Justin Schultz. The Kelowna, British Columbia, native must have dreamed of one day representing the Canucks on ice, but instead he signed with the Oilers in 2012. Schultz was actually drafted by Anaheim but never played a game for the Ducks and when he “de-registered” from the University of Wisconsin he began a complicated process that ultimately resulted in him becoming a free agent. Schultz had many suitors, but eventually signed with the team he cheered against as a boy because he was personally recruited by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. Hard to say ‘no’ to that. Another thing Schultz and Lucic have in common? Both of their names are on Lord Stanley’s Mug, with Schultz having won it last year with his current team, the Penguins.
8 Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios is similar to Vincent Damphousse and Shayne Corson in that he played for both the team he loved as a boy, and the team he hated. Chelios was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He was a big fan of the Blackhawks (though, apparently, a bigger fan of the Chicago Bears) but he was drafted by one of Chicago’s Original Six rivals, the Canadiens. After seven seasons (and a Cup) with Les Habitants, Chelios was traded to his hometown Blackhawks (possibly because he was thought to party too much). He spent nine seasons in Chicago before he was traded to Detroit, perhaps Chicago’s most bitter rival. Chelios played 10 seasons with the Red Wings and won two more Cups.
Though he spent nine years as a Blackhawk and was even a captain, given his two Cups and the fact that he’s now an executive in the Detroit organization, he will perhaps be best remembered as a Red Wing.
7 Emerson Etem
Emerson Etem is one of many ‘90s babies American NHLers to hail from California. Etem is from Long Beach in Southern California and he managed to make it to the NHL and play for a Southern California team. Great, right? Well, yes, but not exactly perfect. Because Etem was drafted by the Ducks, not his beloved L.A. Kings. Despite having one of the greatest names in hockey, Etem never managed to stay in the lineup for a full season with the Ducks (unless you count the shortened 2012-13 season), reaching a career high of 45 games in 2014-15. He then bounced around a bit, playing for the New York Rangers (L.A.-New York rivalry, anyone?) and the Canucks, before being re-signed by the Ducks in 2016. However, he now spends more of his time with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. Does San Diego count as a hated team for Kings fans?
6 Alex Tanguay
There are Quebecois players who are hesitant to sign with the Canadiens for fear of the intense media scrutiny (ie: Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Briere). Furthermore, there are players who grew up as fans of the Quebec Nordiques. While many Nords fans have transitioned to now support the Habs, others continue to steadfastly hate the Canadiens. Some even go as far as cheering for the Bruins merely because they too hate Montreal (no Quebec fans will lower themselves enough to cheer for Toronto, though). Alex Tanguay was one of these diehard Nordiques fans growing up. In a bittersweet development, he was drafted by the Nordiques franchise...only they were in Colorado by then.
After achieving great success with the Avalanche, Tanguay moved to Calgary, and then to Montreal in 2008. Many Habs fans were disappointed when Tanguay admitted to not knowing much of the team’s history and that he was, actually, a Nordiques fan growing up. But here’s the kicker: Tanguay is from Sainte-Justine, Quebec, which is the setting for the famous Canadian short story The Hockey Sweater, in which a young Quebecois boy is mortified to receive the wrong sweater from his mother: a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.
5 Jason Spezza
In another case of provincial rivalry, we have Jason Spezza. Spezza is from Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. As such, he was a Leaf fan growing up, so when the Ottawa Senators came into life for the 1992-93 seasons, the nine-year old Spezza had a provincial rival to cheer against. Little did he know that nine years later, he would be drafted by said franchise. He played 11 seasons for the Sens. During this time, he played against his boyhood team time and time again, including a typically contentious playoff series against the Leafs in 2004. Furthermore, Spezza even went to the finals with Ottawa in 2007. In 2013, he became the became Ottawa's eighth captain in franchise history, before leaving for Dallas in 2014.
4 Frank Mahovlich
Born in Timmins, Ontario, Frank Mahovlich was, like nearly all anglophone Canadians at the time, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Mahovlich even played his junior with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors before suiting up for the Leafs in 1957. Mahovlich spent 11 years with his boyhood team, winning four Stanley Cups. It sounds like a fairytale, but in actuality, Mahovlich struggled off the ice. Mahovlich had a contentious relationship with GM and coach Punch Imlach (who never pronounced his name correctly). Mahovlich also struggled to meet the lofty demands of Leaf fans and began to suffer from depression.
On March 3, 1968, Mahovlich was traded to Detroit. In a league that had just expanded from six to 12 teams, Leafs fans weren’t thrilled with this. But what really ticked them off happened three years later, when Mahovlich joined the hated Montreal Canadiens. Back then, star players simply did not play for both the Habs and the Leafs. Leafs fans were enraged, but after the bitter end to his dream of playing for his boyhood team, Mahovlich was happy to don the bleu, blanc, et rouge. He also briefly played for the Toronto Toros of the WHA, which, I guess, was kind of a rival team to the Leafs. Sort of.
3 Jarome Iginla
What is surprising to many about Jarome Iginla is that the man who was the face of the Calgary Flames franchise for so many years is actually from Edmonton. Now, it’s hard to imagine the cheery, smiley, Iginla hating anybody, but the cross-Albertan rivalry is serious business. There is no love lost between Flames and Oilers fans. And not only is Iginla from Edmonton, he grew up in the ‘80s heyday of the Oilers in which they won five Cups. What’s more, Iginla felt even more connected to the team because of his affinity for Grant Fuhr, who Iginla admired as a man with black ancestry in a largely white sport.
Iginla was drafted by Dallas 11th overall in 1995, but was traded to Calgary before he ever played for the Stars. Given Iginla’s strong Edmonton roots, his Flames career is all the more impressive. He spent parts of 17 seasons with the Flames, 10 of which as team captain, making it to the finals in 2004 and winning the Art Ross Trophy in 2002.
2 Dion Phaneuf
Another player who made the short journey from Edmonton to Calgary is Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was born and bred in Edmonton, and, as you’d expect, cheered on the Oilers. Phaneuf even stayed in Alberta for his junior career, playing for the Red Deer Rebels. He was drafted 9th overall in 2003, but not by Edmonton, but Calgary. So close, and yet, so far. But Phaneuf grew to be an integral part of the team as their top defenceman for parts of five seasons. But his costly contract and bristly personality had caused some fans to dislike Phaneuf and they were glad to bid adieu to the Edmonton native when he was traded to Toronto in January, 2010.
Phaneuf’s time in Toronto followed a similar trajectory, going from a welcomed linchpin of the team to a resented millstone around the team’s neck. His time in Ottawa is going well, so far. But if his old pattern continues, he might make it back to Edmonton one day.
1 Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy’s relationship with Quebecois fans is a complex one. Upon his drafting by Montreal and his subsequent dazzling play in the 1986 playoffs that won him the Cup and the Conn Smythe in his rookie year, Roy seemed like yet another great Quebecois player for the Habs. But, Roy is from Quebec City, and as such grew up cheering on the Nordiques in the WHA. Now that the Nords were in the NHL, Roy had to play against his boyhood team. And he did often, but Roy’s play never betrayed his childhood allegiance. Nordiques fans grew to hate Roy, who stymied them again and again, including during a particularly contentious 1993 playoff series that saw insults and chippy play left and right.
Some old Nordiques fans still detest Roy for that series. One wonders how they felt when Roy fell out with Habs management, demanded a trade, and was sent to their team...except, of course, their team had by then moved to Colorado. This left fans of both Quebec teams resenting Roy. But then, Roy began his coaching career with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL and has since participated in a few Canadiens ceremonies, so maybe everybody likes him again. Or maybe not.