MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens commemorated their 81 year-old rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings before the two Original Six teams played their only game of the season Tuesday.
It is that disparity in the NHL’s current schedule that has Red Wings Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay believing that Detroit will never have a similar rivalry with another team ever again.
Lindsay said Tuesday that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is to blame if attendance numbers are down in Detroit because fans in Hockeytown are sick of seeing teams like Columbus and Nashville so often every year.
“We had it for a couple of years there with Colorado and Detroit, but Bettman has taken advantage of Detroit because of it being a great hockey city and it being a well managed hockey team,” Lindsay said.
“These people, they don’t want to see Columbus. I understand what he’s trying to do, he’s trying to use the strength of Detroit to carry on some of these weaker teams.”
Lindsay says the hockey purists in Detroit who have followed the team since the days the Red Wings played at the Olympia want to see traditional rivals like the Canadiens and Maple Leafs more often.
“We have wonderful hockey fans that have been season ticket holders for 40 or 45 years,” Lindsay said. “Now they’re talking about how (the Red Wings) aren’t sold out, but they’re not sold out because these people aren’t renewing their season tickets. It’s not that the interest in hockey isn’t there, it’s that these people hate to be thought of as being taken advantage of.”
The Canadiens have been commemorating their rivalry with each of the Original Six teams in the lead up to the team’s 100th anniversary in 2009. Tuesday’s pre-game ceremony – which comes on the exact date of the Canadiens’ 98th anniversary – drew the likes of Wings greats Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Marcel Dionne.
Howe said what he appreciated most about playing the Canadiens in Montreal was the way the fans would treat him with respect throughout his career, even in the most heated days of the rivalry in the 1950’s when the Wings and Habs dominated the league with nine Stanley Cups between them in the decade.
He remembered one instance when he reached a personal milestone and the Montreal fans gave him a five-minute ovation.
“I don’t care who you are, when you get somebody showing their affection for what you’ve done, it’s special,” Howe said. “I would come out after the game and there would be about 150 people waiting outside in the cold waiting for my autograph. That respect towards the athlete was really nice.”
Before Tuesday’s game, Howe, Lindsay, Delvecchio, Dionne and Marcel Pronovost were introduced to the crowd along with former Habs Jean Beliveau, Dickie Moore, Jean-Guy Talbot, Stephane Richer and Claude Lemieux, who was a nemesis of the Red Wings during his years with the Colorado Avalanche.
Current Red Wings and former Habs defenceman Chris Chelios was also called to the red carpet, as was Habs coach Guy Carbonneau.