Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bruins' Fans More Passionate than Habs'

It'll take a little time getting used to Julien in Habs attire
It would have been easy to write a blog piece slagging the Canadiens' for choosing another francophone coach but the reality is that hockey is a business and hockey in Montreal demands a French-speaking coach, an essential element in communicating with its unilingual majority base.

It fell to Rejean Tremblay, longtime sportswriter and resident anglo-basher of the Journal de Montreal to put it plainly.
I thought that Michel Therrien would make it through this storm. But his friend Marc Bergevin had the opportunity to get his hands on a high-caliber coach, a francophone and a man who had just worked with Carey Price and Shea Weber at the World Cup and Sochi Olympics."
Claude Julien was a great gift by becoming available. And when Marc Bergevin approached the Boston Bruins on Sunday night or Monday morning for permission to negotiate with Julien, it was over for Michel Therrien.
Happily in Claude Julien the Habs have found somebody that fits that bill to a tee, he is superbly competent and someone with a proven track record and more importantly...speaks French.

Mercifully, the Therrien era is over, with management finally admitting that which was plainly evident for over a year. Clearly the Canadiens were waiting for the 'right' replacement to appear and pounced once Julien became free.

The writing was on the wall for the Canadiens for sometime after their lost last year and although the
Canadiens started the season with a bang, the team started losing it far before injuries took their toll.
I remember attending a family function in New York the night they got bombed by Nashville 10-0, to the astonishment and bewilderment of the guests, of which a large component of the invitees were Montrealers and ex-pat-Montrealers, all Habs fans. It was then I knew the Canadiens were in trouble.
How a team that had such an impressive won/lost record could collapse in a panic so badly was more than just a fluke or one off. It was a question of character and leadership. Losing a game badly happens to every team, but limiting the damage and keeping the score down is what character is about.
In reaction to the shelling Therrien seemed angry and more importantly panicked and lost, like a failing general who freezes in the face of a successful enemy attack.
When he allowed his second string goaltender Al Montoya to dangle in the wind instead of doing the merciful thing by pulling him(something every other coach in the league would do) Therrien displayed a vengeful and cruel streak, something that marked his coaching career, sarcastic remarks and withering stare-downs.

There are two types of teams, those which rise in the face of adversity and those which collapse, Therrien led the latter. Everyone knew Therrien had to go last year in the face of that monumental collapse, one which the complacent media accepted as predicated solely by the injury to Carey Price.
The truth was that Price's replacement, Mike Condon didn't play that badly and could never realistically been made the goat responsible for the whole team's collapse, but the right coach wasn't available and so Bergevin bit his lip, brazened it out and hoped for the best.
How'd that work out?
The fans and the media accepted the inaction on the coaching front all without an uproar, something that shouldn't happen in any hockey town worth its salt. It wouldn't have happened in Boston.

Montreal fans like to think of themselves as the most passionate, knowledgeable and sophisticated followers in the league and to that all I can say is BULLSHIT!!!
Montreal fans are more like parents, who encourage the team's efforts no matter what and whom accept a good effort as good enough.
Not so Bruins fans, who may as a group be smaller, but are every bit as knowledgeable and passionate, and more importantly fiercely competitive and demanding.
The devoted Bruins fans would have eviscerated Therrien long before he had a chance to screw up the team so badly. The outcry in Boston for Julien's firing was based not on competence but results, something the Bruins fans demand.

I like to read the fan boards to get a sense of what the prevailing mood is vis-a-vis the NHL and I promise you the Bruins discussion site is the one I return to time after time for its passion and surprisingly entertainment value.
 HF Boards -Bruins
Here fans agonize in real time as the game progresses and wax eloquent once it is over. The comments are vicious, strange, sarcastic, caustic and always wildly entertaining, especially after a Bruins loss.
Bruins fans demand success, Montreal fans don't.

I cruised this Bruins site to get the reaction of the Boston fans to the Julien signing and was surprised that the usual sarcasm wasn't on display where I expected the someone to comment that the Canadiens were settling for sloppy seconds, but it wasn't the case.
The vast majority of comments were favourable to Julien's coaching ability and most were disappointed that the Habs got a hold of him. The entertaining part were the many comments lambasting the Bruins management for giving permission to Julien to go to Montreal while under contract to the Bruins, in order to save half a year's salary.
The old cheapskate reputation of Bruins management is legendary in Boston.

Montreal does in fact have a very poor fan base, where the city and indeed the province can muster support for but one professional team. The pitiful attendance at the last World Junior Hockey Championship. tournament in Montreal was a testament to that support. Apologist Montreal sportswriter Stu Cowen blamed high ticket prices for the debacle of having just  8,366 show up at the 21,273-seat Bell Centre for the bronze-medal game between Russia and Sweden.
I wonder if the $50 minimum ticket was really the problem and had the price been reduced to $25, would the attendance been double?  I doubt it and at any rate the tournament would not have been ahead revenue-wise. The reality is that Montreal fans are cheap and one-dimensional.

Boston Bruins fans and indeed all Boston fans  shame Montreal in their avid support of professional sports with the Celtics, Reds, Bruins and Patriots all enjoying unlimited success. Montreal can muster support but for one team and for all intents and purposes are basically a sports one-trick pony. The Boston support for four major professional teams comes from a population base that is but 15% higher than Montreal's.

Montreal in fact is a poor city where inhabitants don't have the disposable income to support more than one major professional sports team. The vaunted perennial sold-out Bell Centre for Habs games is more a function of corporate sales, where companies own most of the season tickets and all the private loges. At almost all games the legion of scalpers in front of the Bell Centre is legendary and tickets can be had almost always below cost. Yup... below cost.
Compare that to Boston, Toronto or New York (Rangers)  where I remember paying in the neighbourhood of $US500 for two tickets, 17 rows up, from one of the very few scalpers in front of Madison Square Gardens.
The Canadiens remain a superb form of cheap entertainment for the legions of fans who follow the team on television, a welcome distraction in the dark and frigid winter months, but the success of the ratings speak to the fact that the entertainment is almost free. 

Another myth is how well the Canadiens give back to the community and how avant-guard the team is at innovation.  Not true and Not true.
Like most other NHL teams the Canadiens hold a charity raffle at each home game called the  50/50 (where half the money goes to charity and half to the winning ticket). In some NHL cities a designated charity is the beneficiary of the winnings but in Montreal as in some other NHL cities, the money goes to its own foundation, in this case, the Montreal Canadiens Children's Charity and this to the tune of one million dollars a year. The foundation also raises money through silent auction, golf tournaments and other fundraising events with the money funding projects like outdoor skating rinks in underprivileged  neighbourhoods, where the Canadiens organization gets all the credit and the fans who paid for it, none of the recognition.
A good deal for the Habs and I dare say a more cynical observer than I might consider the foundation a fan-funded marketing instrument.
The charity raises about five million dollars a years but spends almost half on expenses. All the fundraising activities are duly noted on the foundation website, but the actual contribution to the charity by the Canadiens or the ownership group is strangely absent. It seems like in all endeavours that the Habs engage in, it is the fans who pay.
By the way, the average amount wagered each game on the 50/50 is about $50,000 in Montreal and $150,000 in Vancouver. The average pool at an Edmonton Eskimo football game is also in the $125,000 range and a lucky fan once claimed half of a $700,000 pot. 

So how cheap are Montreal fans?
Well count the hats thrown onto the ice after a hat trick.... it is downright sad.

Forget the myth that the Canadiens are special and that their fans the best. The popularity of the Canadians outside the city is more a testament to how many Anglos have fled to scattered North American parts, yet remain a fan to their hometown team.


  1. The Habs stopped being a class organization years ago. Geoff Molson is an also-ran with old money. Like Beryl Wajsman once said during a Quebec general election, the minorities still pay 40% of the taxes yet make up 20% of the population. Imagine what would have been the case if hundreds of thousands of minorities who left instead stayed in Quebec.

    Quebec practices Affirmative Action, starting with the barrage of language legislation starting with Bill 22 and the cavalcade that followed ever since. OK, francophones get the lion's share of the government's largesse, but it's from an ever-shrinking pie. Now Quebec politics has completely infiltrated the hockey team, to the point where the Dick Irvins and Toe Blakes of the contemporary world can no longer be behind the bench anymore because they are not sufficiently fluent in la langue fran├žise.

    French has never been a big deal with the Als or Expos, or even all the soccer teams that formed the NASL. We had the Olympiques, the Manic (depressives) and now the Impact. The Olympic Stadium is now a completely white elephant (always was after the Olympics) where it almost never filled that failed venue. The Quebec Government didn't want to help finance a field downtown that would have been good for both baseball and football, so baseball left and the then Commissioner of Baseball practically encouraged the way it left. At least McGill Stadium is still as sufficient venue for the CFL, albeit barely.

    Like you wrote, Philip, there isn't a dollar left in Montreal, once the way Harold Ballard once mocked Hamilton in the same manner. At least Hamilton upgraded its football stadium and you wouldn't believe how much the cost of housing has gone up in that town.

    It took me years to feel I was part of the the furniture in T'ron'o, but I still follow the Habs, I guess out of HABit! The Leafs were too awful for too long and they're finally making a concerted effort to put a good product on the ice. Le Club du Hockey Canadien proved how much class it lost when Randy Cunneyworth was treated the way he was about five years ago.

    The minorities are still king in Quebec even though the government, whether blatantly separatist or so-called federalist, are made up of incompetent boobs who are envious of the Heenglish and other "money and the ethnic vote - essentially" who have more brains in their pinky toe than most of the society's homogenous majority. Eat your hearts out, you crash test dummies!

    Mr. Sauga

  2. I have been wondering about this for years, even before I left. If Philip can provide good explanation, that would be appreciated. Why is Montreal such a hockey city? Being passionate is good, but not in the expense of the others. I remember that even when the Alouettes were on their heyday - with back-to-back Championships and multiple visits to the Grey Cup - they were still struggling for fans support. And they were still not sports front page.

    Compare that with here in the West. NHL hockey is still king, but the population supports their CFL team. Come summer when CFL is playing and NHL is not, people wear their CFL gears and nary NHL t-shirt or cap is visible. Compare that with Montreal that even when attending the Als victory parade, some fans were in their Habs jersey. SMH.

    To compare further, I would like to compare Montreal with Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul), Minnesota, an area that lately I have some exposure with. Metro area population of Minneapolis is 3.5M vs Montreal's 4.6M. Population of the State of Minnesota is 5.5M and the Province of Quebec is 8.2M. Yet Twin Cities hosts 4 major sports franchises: Vikings (NFL), Twins (MLB), Timberwolves (NBA), Wild (NHL). This year Minnesota United FC (MLS) will start playing. In addition, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers are also an impressive athletic program. It is most famous in football, but its basketball and hockey teams are also good.

    Now it reminds me when I was still in Montreal and my son played football (go Spartans!). In one of the conversations I had with an acquaintance (who was openly separatist), he scoffed at that fact and stated that in Quebec, we played hockey...