Edmonton Journal

Montrealer­s reserve passion for Canadiens

Young players face swaths of vacant seats

- CHRISTOPHE­R CURTIS

MONTREAL — The game is about to begin Saturday night, but there are still a few free tables at the front of McLean’s Pub.

If the Canadiens were playing a home game it would be standing-room only at the Montreal bar. Patrons wearing Habs jerseys would fill up on pitchers of beer before heading to the nearby Bell Centre for the evening.

On an even crazier night — when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town for instance — there might be a large crowd on the sidewalk chanting outside McLean’s and the neighbouri­ng Peel Pub. A small parade would make its way toward René Lévesque Blvd.

For some reason, though, the World Junior Hockey Championsh­ip has not elicited the same passion from Montrealer­s that their beloved Canadiens do. There are people sporting the Team Canada jerseys at McLean’s and a few preparing to make the short walk to the Bell Centre but, mostly, it’s a quiet Saturday night at the pub.

Attendance at the Canada versus Slovakia game was 14,142 Friday night, with swaths of empty red seats visible across the arena. The following evening, which saw the host country face Germany, the announced crowd was even smaller at 12,733.

This would be inconceiva­ble for a Canadiens game, in which each of the 21,287 Bell Centre seats is occupied night after night.

And so, the underwhelm­ing world junior ticket sales have sparked a debate in which some pundits have labelled Montreal “not a hockey city” (GASP!).

The centre of the problem, says McLean’s manager Jay Farrar, may be that tournament organizers fundamenta­lly misunderst­and Quebec and, to a larger degree, Montreal.

“Montreal is not Canada, Montreal is not even Quebec, Montreal is Montreal,” says Farrar, also a producer and radio personalit­y on a number of TSN 690 shows. “We’re like the Vatican that way, a country within a country ... There’s a level of civic pride in this city that you don’t see anywhere else in Canada and the Canadiens are a big part of that.”

Farrar experience­s the city’s hockey culture in two significan­t ways. First, he is the guy who serves drinks to the hordes of fans as they hoot and holler during Habs games. On other days, he fields calls from cab drivers, bus boys and PhD students, all wanting to take to the radio and debate, not about the minutia of minor hockey, but rather about their city and its team.

“There’s something at stake with the Canadiens: our city versus your city,” Farrar says. “There’s certainly a connection to the rest of Canada but, even among the city’s patriotic Anglos, it’s not necessaril­y a strong one. In some other cities, you’ll hear about fans cheering for another Canadian team once their team is eliminated from the playoffs. That just doesn’t happen here.

“With the world juniors, what’s really at stake? There’s been a drought recently, but Canada generally dominates and we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought that anyone outside of Canada watches this tournament.”

 ?? MINDS PANAGIOTAK­IS/ GETTY IMAGES ?? The Canadian flag is raised to the rafters in Montreal after Canada trounced Slovakia 8-0 Friday.
MINDS PANAGIOTAK­IS/ GETTY IMAGES The Canadian flag is raised to the rafters in Montreal after Canada trounced Slovakia 8-0 Friday.

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