The Ugly Side of Winning
MONTREAL--If it was a riot, it was a strange one.
Yes, police cars were burned in downtown Montreal last night in the hours after the Canadiens disposed of the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their opening round Stanley Cup playoffs.
On Ste. Catharine St., there was glass everywhere, some of it from police cars, some from storefront windows, some from civilian cars.
Yet a large city block away, on Boulevard Rene Levesque, there was no such damage. An hour after the game was over, about two blocks were clogged with cars and celebrating fans high-fiving each other and waving flags, but the celebration was, essentially, fun.
On Ste. Catharine, it was very different. Just after 1 a.m., after all the damage had been done and miles of video had been shot by police of various perpetrators, about 50 riot police emerged to march down the major street, but by then, the trouble had mostly dissipated, replaced by young people taking pictures of damaged police vehicles.
It was more a spasm of opportunistic vandalism than a hockey-related riot, yet it will leave an ugly mark on the city today.
From a sports point of view, no longer will Montrealers be able to mock Torontonians for the way in which they take to the streets with honking car horns after the Maple Leafs win a playoff round, if anyone in the GTA can actually remember back that far.
The Habs-Bruins series was a first rounder, yet the honking was there in the streets of Montreal, evidence, some would say, of the very different demographic that makes up the Montreal fan base these days.
When I started covering games in Montreal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, fans were largely like those at the ACC, mostly sitting on their hands and applauding only the style of hockey they felt was appropriate to Montreal's tradition. As well, they booed the English words to O Canada, leaving everyone feeling a little uncomfortable.
These days, the fans are loud and passionate, as loud and passionate as any hockey fans in the world. They sing every word of O Canada, English or French, and they have created a fabulous hockey atmosphere at the Bell Centre.
But they honk horns after winning a playoff round, perhaps because this team hasn't done a ton of winning since capturing the Stanley Cup back in 1993.
This is a fan base separated by 15 years from its last championship in a city that has changed very much over that time. They're now excited just to eliminate the eighth-place Bruins, with a possible Stanley Cup still three rounds away.
No doubt today in the Montreal media there will be intense debate over all of this, and over the nature of the damage done last night to police vehicles and private property which was, really, more ugly and unfortunate than scary or dangerous.
Punks and vandals did the damage, not hockey fans. Some would say the same was the case with the Richard Riots in 1955.
But while the Habs are still alive in these Stanley Cup playoffs, the fact remains that Montreal cannot be proud of the face it will show the rest of the country today.