“Why do Torontonians drink their tea out of saucers? Because Montreal has all the Cups.”- an unknown, comical, Montreal Canadiens fan.
Last week, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News suggested that Hockey Canada misread the hockey market in Montreal when they chose the co-host for the 2015 and 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship, along with Toronto. The low ticket sales and small crowds at Bell Centre games lead Campbell to question whether Montreal really is a hockey city or not.
Being from Montreal, born and raised, I would just like to say to you Mr. Campbell, that Montreal is, indeed, a hockey city.
On March 3rd, 1875, the first recorded indoor hockey game was played at the Victoria Skating Rink, just north of the Bell Centre’s present-day location. Montreal is home to a grand total of 41 Stanley Cup Championships, between the Montreal Hockey Club, the Wanderers, the Maroons, the Victorias, the Shamrocks, and of course, the Canadiens.
History aside, after the Richards, the Beliveaus, the Lafleurs, and the Roys won 24 Cups for the Habs, fans have been sticking behind the team, through thick and thin, since their last championship in 1993, and they had to suffer through some dark days, when management was unstable, and captains were being discarded like tissues.
The team failed to make the playoffs three years in a row at the turn of the century, things in Montreal looked bleak when the future of the club was in question, and small talk about relocation surfaced in 2001, when George Gillett Jr. bought the team. Despite grim circumstances, the fans were always there, filling the Bell Centre, night in and night out. Every ticket has been sold since January 8th, 2004, showcasing Habs fans’ passionate loyalty.
Since 1993, the team has never again reached a Stanley Cup Final, but made it to the Eastern Conference Final twice, in 2010 and 2014. Both times, as the Canadiens stormed through the post-season, the hockey city was rapidly adorned with increasing amounts of blue, white and red (or bleu, blanc, rouge). The famous CH logo was essentially draped over the Greater Montreal Area and it’s population of 3 million.
Not a car could be seen without a flag, and schools were holding “Habs Day”, where students would wear their gear to support the team. You could be sitting on the metro and hear someone say, in English or French; “did you watch the game last night?” and you would know they were talking about a Canadiens game. Not an Impact or Alouettes game, not another team’s game, not a Toronto Raptors game, the game is instantly associated to a Canadiens game.
About a month ago, I had to do a project for a college course where we had to ask tourists what they thought of Montreal before coming here. The majority would say, almost immediately; “Hockey, the Montreal Canadiens”.
Now, Ken Campbell, don’t claim that Montreal is not a hockey city, and that the results of the World Juniors ticket sales is a rude-awakening for people who think Montreal is the hockey capital of the world.
The sales of the World Junior tickets change nothing.
If anything, blame it on the folks over at the marketing and sales departments at Hockey Canada. They did a brutal job preparing for this ten-day tournament, at least with their own projects. Leading up to it, Montrealers were forced to purchase all 13 games or none at all. Then, they started offering mini-packs of four games, but no more than two in each featured a Canadian game. Finally, only three weeks prior, Evenko and Hockey Canada made single-game tickets available to the public, where the prices were just outright ridiculous.
Our own Nickolai Vincelli pointed out the expensive tickets and correlating that to the low ticket sales. For an average Canadiens game (e.g. against the Islanders, Jackets, Sabres, etc.), the most expensive ticket is $275, while it was $336 for the Canada-USA game on New Years Eve. Timeout…what? Tickets for professional hockey players are less expensive than for 18 and 19-year-olds? Makes perfect sense, Hockey Canada.
Don’t get me wrong, the World Juniors are exciting to watch, these kids give it their all, but I enjoy watching it on TV, instead of paying incredible amounts to watch the game in person. Yes, I did end up paying $100 for the first row of the upper bowl, and it was a great experience, but for $100, I was expecting to sit in the lower section before the tournament started. Then, I saw the prices…
This, and the fact that it’s the holiday season and the fine people of Montreal not only have to buy gifts for the holidays, but they have to pay the highest sales tax in Canada, led to many empty seats in the Bell Centre. Many Montrealers have also abandoned the cold and flew down to Florida over the holidays, where they would cheer on their team for as low as $25. If you were watching any of the Junior games, it sure didn’t sound like a relatively empty arena, as crowds were raucous during every one of Team Canada’s games.
Yes, it is a bit of an embarrassment not to sell-out the tournament, but Mr. Campbell, you cannot judge the city of Montreal, and question the fans devotion and passion to hockey, based on one tournament. To put that into an analogy any hockey fan can understand, imagine if scouts of the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes based their assessment of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on the New Year’s Eve classic, without acknowledging any junior or college hockey, any other games in the tournament or the draft combine. That just sounds silly, doesn’t it?
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