I’ve always been a Montreal Canadiens fan, like most people born and raised in the province of Quebec. Hockey is in our blood; we were raised hearing about and seeing the on-ice accomplishments of people like Jean Béliveau, Rocket Richard and Guy Lafleur, and listening to the electrifying play-by-play commentary by the likes of Danny Gallivan. There’s no doubt: Montreal is the hockey capital of the world.
But in the past 10 years or so, I’ve been secretly hoping the team would make an early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For heaven’s sake, why, you might be wondering.
Sadly, it’s because of people — tens of thousands, sometimes — who feel the need to riot in downtown streets after Montreal wins a series. It happens every year, to greater or lesser degrees when the Canadiens win a series.
In 2008, after Montreal eliminated Boston from a playoff round, people looted shops, torched police cars and caused all sorts of other mayhem.
Everyone has come to expect some sort of mob madness when the Canadiens win a series, it seems. It is almost the norm, though it has absolutely nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with hooliganism. Indeed, none of the people arrested in the 2008 riot or the 2010 riot had actually been at the games those nights.
And God help this town if Montreal actually wins the Stanley Cup, though that is unlikely this year given that the team can barely get by the hapless Ottawa Senators. The last time the Canadiens won the Cup — in 1993 — stores on Ste-Catherine St. were looted, cars torched and overturned and more.
Personally, I would rather see the Canadiens lose than see downtown Montreal looted and burned by a mob. And with students protesting in the streets against government austerity programs this spring, the combination of deranged hockey hooligans and angry protesters could add up to an explosive situation — one that ultimately could see lives lost.
In the name of hockey? It’s not worth it.
Of course, Montreal is not alone with this problem. Any town hosting a professional sports franchise runs the same risk. And, no doubt, there are many people in those towns who share the same fears I share.
And that’s the saddest part of this: professional sports should not instil fear in citizens who just want to go about their lives.