Montrealers are part of the minority in North America: they are still interested in hockey after winter turns to spring. Long after daffodils bloom and golf courses open, Montrealers fill the Forum and gather in front of television sets to follow their beloved Canadiens in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. This spring the team’s fans have more than enough reason to ignore the change of seasons. For the 23rd time in the fabled history of Les Glorieux, they are the defending Cup champions. But last week the city’s concern focused not on Montreal’s second-round playoff opponent but on reports that three Canadiens players had engaged in sexual misconduct with minors. The scandal threatened to disrupt the team’s defence of the Cup and tarnish the name of one of the proudest franchises in professional sport.
The reports surfaced on April 15 in broadcasts by Quebec City radio station CHRC. The station reported that on April 5, when the Canadiens returned to Montreal following their final regu-
lar-season game against the Rangers in New York, three players met two girls—ages 14 and 15—at Dorval Airport. According to CHRC, the players and the girls then went to a bar on Montreal’s chic Crescent Street. From there they went to one player’s apartment. There, they all spent the night. No charges have been laid, but André Arthur, host of CHRC’s popular morning show and part-owner of the station, named three Canadiens in his reports on the incident. On April 16, Canadiens general manager Serge Savard threatened to sue the radio station for naming the players. Declared Savard: “Having been made aware of the facts, I sincerely believe the innocence of the players.’’
Last week the Montreal Urban Community Police confirmed that an investigation is being carried out. The parents of one of the girls reported their daughter missing to the police on April 5. The girl was found in the East End of Montreal the following afternoon. The investigation —by District 22 police and two members of the provin-
cial attorney general’s office—was conducted after the parents of both girls filed complaints. The two juveniles have been interviewed by Montreal police investigators. Last week Quebec Justice Minister Herbert Marx said that his ministry is looking into the allegations, and Montreal Crown prosecutor Serge Authier said that he will decide by April 29 whether to lay charges.
The scandal erupted just as the Canadiens—the National Hockey League’s hottest team—prepared for the Stanley Cup playoffs’ second round. Montreal defeated the Boston Bruins in four straight games in the first round, running their winning streak to 13. In fact, including ties, the Canadiens have not lost since March 11. While their principal challengers for the Cup—the Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames—struggled in their opening rounds, the Canadiens re-established their traditional blend of solid defence and explosive offence. Indeed, during the final months of the 80-game regular season, Montreal played playoffstyle hockey. The team played well defensively throughout the season, winning the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals. During their current winning streak, the offence has finally caught up. Said captain Bob Gainey: “It seemed that we were always going into
the third period tied or in a one-goal game. Our season games were closelike playoff games.” But in the four first-round games against Boston, Montreal scored 19 goals.
The NHL playoffs are now truly a second season. This year the league lengthened the first rounds from series of best-of-five games to best-of-
seven. The result is that the two finalists—from the initial 16 playoff qualifiers—are not scheduled to begin their series until May 20. The seventh game —if necessary —is slated for June 1, which would be the latest Cup celebration ever. But entering the final six weeks of the eight-month season, Montreal appears prepared
to at least take part in the final.
The Canadiens’ championship last spring came as a surprise. The Oilers were expected to run their string to three consecutive Cups. And this season the Oilers are favored again. Said Gainey: “Even though we are the defending champions, teams didn’t get up for us this season. Our record didn’t scare anybody. Teams were more likely to get up for Edmonton because they have so many great players that if you aren’t ready, they can embarrass you.” That psychology worked for the Canadiens. According to Montreal coach Jean Perron, fear was the chief motivator this year. Said Perron: “[Montreal forward] Ryan Walter said that when he was with the Washington Capitals, the team played to win. Here in Montreal, the players play in fear of losing. None of these guys wants the letdown of losing after having won the Cup last year. Right now, they are psyched up sky-high.”
Following the week’s startling reports, and considering the talented teams still in the hunt for the Cup, the Canadiens will need to summon all of their considerable resources. The difference this hockey spring: more Montrealers than ever will be watching.
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