When the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, in overtime of game six of the Stanley Cup semifinals there may not have been a happier person on the East End than Jon Diat.
With the victory, the Canadiens not only continued their improbable playoff run, they ended a 28-year drought of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. While the avid, non-Canadiens hockey fan would not feel bad that Montreal hasn’t raised the cup in nearly three decades — they’ve won the most of any team in the National Hockey League with 24 — having not won a cup since 1993 feels like an eternity for Canadiens fans, Diat included.
“It’s been a fun ride,” the 59-year-old North Haven resident said of his favorite team’s postseason run. “You kind of equate the Canadiens with the New York Yankees since Montreal has won 24 Stanley Cups, and in the ’70s and ’80s cups were coming easy so you don’t really have an appreciation of all of them until you go on a drought like this. You kind of forget and take it for granted.”
Diat is a lifelong Canadiens fan even though he grew up just over 10 miles north of Nassau Coliseum in Old Brookville, where former New York Islander great Denis Potvin lived right down the road from him. Although he has rooted for the Islanders and continues to — he desperately wanted the Islanders to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the other semifinals — there was something about Montreal that drew him to it as a kid, he said.
“It’s hard to say, but growing up there was something about the uniforms, and then in the ’70s of course they were known as the Flying Frenchmen,” he explained. “They had this flair about them, the panache, and then of course they won six of their Stanley Cups during that time. And Guy Lafleur was a hero of mine growing up.”
Diat, a hockey player himself, went on to play at the University of Buffalo, making his route to catch Canadiens games in person somewhat more manageable. He then “morphed” what was a college internship with the Buffalo Sabres into a full-time media relations job there his first two years after graduating college, so Diat was able to get a real intricate look into professional hockey.
That was shortlived, though, as he quickly found himself moving back closer to home in New York City, working in media relations with such companies like CitiGroup, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and finally AIG from which he retired from three years ago. These days Diat spends his time out on the water as an avid fisherman — he “reincarnated” a broken, game-used Guy LaFleur stick he was able to get at a game in 1983 into a gaff he current uses on his boat — and he chronicles his time as a fishing columnist for The East Hampton Star.
Another memento Diat is proud of is a blue seat he took from the “nosebleeds” of the old Montreal Forum before it was tore down. The forum is where the Canadiens played for 70 seasons and won 22 of their Stanley Cups before moving to Molson Centre, now called Bell Centre. Since that move, Montreal hasn’t won a cup or even reached the finals, and Diat is hoping that this year that all changes.
Typically Diat and his wife, Terie, would head north Super Bowl weekend to take in a Canadiens game, but with coronavirus and border restrictions in place, that didn’t happen this year, Diat was sad to say. With the Canadiens now in the finals, though, Diat has an opportunity to see his beloved team in the Stanley Cup finals, one he won’t pass up. He most likely won’t travel to Montreal to catch one of the games; with restrictions still in place as of Monday, only 3,500 seats are available and tickets can cost as much as $14,000 for a single seat.
Diat and his wife are instead in the middle of making plans to head to Tampa Bay, where his wife’s aunt lives, and where the Canadiens will face the host Lightning, possibly for game five of the series.
Diat didn’t predict how the series, which began on Monday night, would go. He’s just going to take it all in and enjoy it while he can.
“It’s going to be tough,” to beat Tampa, he said. “But I didn’t expect them to beat Toronto, or Winnipeg, or Vegas. Sometimes all it takes is a hot goalie, like we have in Carey Price, and some luck. A team in a similar position that reminds me of that are the L.A. Kings when they played the Rangers in the finals and made that run with Jonathan Quick. The Canadiens only won one of their final nine games of the regular season and it was like, God, are they even going into make the playoffs?
“But they’ve got a good mix of veterans like Shea Weber along with the youngsters similar to when St. Louis won it,” Diat continued. “You’ve got to have some size to clear in front of the net, which seems pretty important to this team, but it’s been fun just to see how far this team has gone. We had a picnic here at North Haven Manor just the other day where we had 60 to 70 people and I had a lot of people coming up to me saying, ‘Boy, you must be having fun.’ It’s nice, makes you feel like a kid again.”