BOSTON – A playoff hockey classic was shoved to the backburner Friday as Canadiens and Bruins players and coaches found themselves addressing the ugly issue of racism.
Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban, who is black, was targeted for racial abuse on social media in the wake of his winning goal in Thursday’s thrilling 4-3 double-overtime playoff win over Boston.
“I’m shocked,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien told reporters Friday. “Honestly I’m shocked to hear those type of comments.”
“No one deserves to be treated like this,” he added. “And P.K. has all our support.”
Many comments with racist and derogatory terms were posted on Twitter and other social media websites after the victory. The 24-year-old Subban, a slick-skating defenceman who is one of the NHL’s most exciting players, scored twice as Montreal won the opener of the best-of-seven second-round series.
Subban was not made available by the Canadiens, who had a closed gym session instead of a practice Friday thanks to the tight turnaround between Thursday’s extended Game 1 and the afternoon start for Game 2 Saturday.
Montreal brought out four players, all of whom decried the abuse of their teammate.
“I just think it’s unacceptable,” said defenceman Mike Weaver. “It’s just classless.”
Forward David Desharnais echoed his coach.
“Nobody deserves to be treated like that. It has nothing to do with sports or anything,” he said.
Weaver, like the other Habs players who met the media, blamed the ugliness on “a few individuals.”
Boston was quick to denounce those responsible.
“The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,” team president Cam Neely said in a statement.
Boston coach Claude Julien also spoke out against those behind the abuse.
“It’s just poor judgment, poor taste, and we don’t associate ourselves with people like that, and people who think that way are not what we call our fans,” he told reporters at the Bruins’ practice facility. “They may think they are, but we certainly don’t support that at all.
“It’s a shame that this is still going around in this day and age, and that people are still thinking that way.”
In a week that saw a Spanish soccer fan throw a banana at Barcelona defender Dani Alves, the torrent of abuse aimed at Subban was a painful reminder that hate knows no boundaries.
“You’d like to think that it wouldn’t happen but it does,” said Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher. “It’s still part of the life and part of the world … I think it is getting better. I think it’s a very small group of people. It doesn’t represent the National Hockey League in any way. We have great fans.”
Said Julien: “There’s a lot of good fans out there, and that’s the sad part about it is that, you know, your good fans get tarnished because of comments like that from people who don’t belong in that same group.”
The abuse was an embarrassment on several levels for the Bruins, who drafted Subban’s younger brother Malcolm.
Asked if the Boston organization plans to reach out to the younger Subban, a goalie, Julien replied: “I think we’re reaching out to everybody in that situation. You know, we’ve got Jarome Iginla on our team. Let’s be realistic here about this. It’s something we don’t support.”
Gallagher said P.K. Subban was professional in handling the abuse.
“He understands the best way to handle it is just ignore it,” he said. “And understand that their opinions don’t really mean anything.”
“He shakes it off pretty good,” added Desharnais.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre called the remarks “unfortunate”, saying he would not defend the undefendable.
“We will answer back with the goals that we score,” Coderre told reporters Friday at Montreal city hall.
The mayor also had a few words for Boston fans, saying there are some who will try to destabilize the Habs.
“They will try with all kinds of insults, (both) acceptable and unacceptable, but we won’t fall into their trap,” Coderre said.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement that the offensive tweets were “a disgrace.”
“These racist comments are not reflective of Boston, and are not reflective of Bruins fans. I’ve said before that the best hockey in the world happens when the Bruins and Canadiens play each other, and there is no room for this kind of ignorance here.”
The racial abuse wasn’t the only fan misbehaviour on the night.
Some in the building reacted to the overtime loss by throwing drinks and garbage at the Canadiens as they left the ice.
“It’s Boston, it’s the rivalry. They don’t like (it) when we’re winning, I guess,” said Desharnais. “That’s just Boston.”
“We come here, we don’t expect to be cuddled,” he added.
Therrien, who is one of the first off the bench, said he had not noticed the cascade of garbage.
As to how the rest of the Habs reacted, Desharnais said: “We just got off the ice pretty quick.”
Subban, meanwhile, restricted his Twittter activity Friday to a tweet directing followers to check out a link to one of his sponsors.
But he addressed the issue of racism in a 2012 interview on “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.”
“I’ve been playing hockey since I was two-and-a-half, three years old. And there’s been a number of those incidents. And they’re just stupid people really, to be honest with you,” he said.
“Hockey’s filled with great people, and it’s a great sport, and I encourage a lot of people to play it because of the relationships that you make in hockey. Those are the things that I’d rather talk about than all those other things, because they’re just ignorant people.”
When Stroumboulopoulos cited fans throwing bananas at black soccer players, Subban said “I’d probably just pick it up and eat it.”
Which is exactly what Alves did this week, to worldwide acclaim.
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