Proud Mary keeps HI/O Summit alive — in Ottawa
You could call this story: How Mary Saved the HI/O Summit.
The first HI/O Summit was held in 2007, bringing together a small group of passionate Canadiens fans who follow the team on the Montreal Gazette’s hockeyinsideout.com website for a game at the Bell Centre.
It had grown every year since with as many as 200 Canadiens fans attending from across North America and beyond. It eventually turned into a weekend-long event with a meet-and-greet Friday night at a Montreal hotel, a breakfast and tour of the Bell Centre Saturday, along with a pre-game dinner and post-game drinks at a downtown bar. The HI/O group also held a charity raffle to raise some money for the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation.
But it looked like this year’s HI/O Summit wasn’t going to happen after organizer Ian Cobb became frustrated with an inability to reserve enough tickets for the group with the Canadiens as he had done in previous years. At first Cobb said the Canadiens wanted his group to buy one pre-season game ticket for every regular-season ticket. Since most members of the HI/O group don’t live in Montreal, that didn’t work.
Cobb, a 73-year-old retired businessman and lifelong Canadiens fan who lives in Belleville, Ont., eventually decided it was time to just scrap the HI/O Summit.
And then along came Mary. Mary McGill is a 60-year-old lifelong Canadiens fan who lives in Ottawa and had attended the last three HI/O Summits in Montreal. She got in touch with the Senators to see if she could reserve about 20 tickets for Monday’s game.
“I was just really bummed that it wasn’t going to happen this year, so I decided to do something,” she said.
McGill started asking people on the HI/O website if they’d be interested in going to a game in Ottawa and Monday night a group of just over 20 sat together in Section 326 at the Canadian Tire Centre, paying $87 per ticket to watch the Canadiens play the Senators, keeping the HI/O Summit alive for another year.
Liz McIntosh, a Canadiens fan living in Toronto, drove to Ottawa to take part in the summit for the first time. She had never met McGill in person before, only communicating with her through the website.
“The tickets were very reasonable, so I thought, ‘why not?’ ” McIntosh said Monday while sitting with the HI/O group for a pre-game meal at a pub near the Canadian Tire Centre. “I had never attended one before, but I had heard about them.”
McGill said she was hoping to get more people to attend, but the fact the new summit plans were put together quickly and the game was on a Monday night didn’t help. Plus it wasn’t in Montreal.
“I just like the whole summit atmosphere,” McGill said. “I live in Ottawa and there’s a few Habs fans here ... not that many. But when you get to Montreal and you get in the city and around all the fans and the vibe of the city, it was just so much fun. It’s probably not going to be the same here in Ottawa, but this is a really nice bunch of people.”
Sitting across from McGill at the pre-game meal was her husband Bruce, proudly wearing a Senators jersey. When asked if he has tried to convert his wife into a Senators fan, Bruce said: “No ... never going to happen. It’s the other way around.
“When we play each other, somebody goes to bed angry,” he added with a laugh.
Mary grew up in Montreal before her family moved to Ontario in the 1970s. She said her earliest Canadiens memory dates back to when she was a young teenager and the Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins in the playoffs and her parents put the kids in the car and drove to the airport to greet the players when they got home.
“I had one of those autograph books that a lot of girls my age had,” she recalled. “I got autographs from Jean Béliveau, Ken Dryden, Pete Mahovlich and Guy Lapointe. And I remember watching Béliveau and the women would come up and put their babies in front of him and he would kiss them. I thought it was such an odd thing to do as a 14-year-old. But I still remember that like it was yesterday.”
Cobb said he’s thinking about organizing the HI/O Summit again next year and bringing it back to Montreal, saying he learned the problems he had getting tickets to the Bell Centre this year had to do with new staff there.
Mary was hoping for a Canadiens win Monday to help make this year’s summit a success.
“I think they’re a better team than how they’re playing,” she said before the game. “I think (Andrei) Markov was a big loss. But I just watch the games and try to enjoy it … I try not to take it too seriously.”
There’s something about Mary.
HI/O Summit-goers Mary McGill, who organized this year’s event, and Ian Cobb were among those in attendance Monday in Ottawa.