MONTREAL – Police reported lots of jubilation but little confrontation as a show of force coupled with the resolve of citizens amounted to quiet night following Thursday night’s Montreal Canadiens victory.
Fans and ordinary citizens alike were met with a large, menacing police presence in downtown Montreal as authorities attempted to avoid a repeat of the hooliganism earlier in the week.
There was a festive and joyous atmosphere following Montreal’s 4-3 come-from-behind overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers to open their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
A cacophony of car horns filtered through the downtown, but there were no signs of the same crush of people or any serious problems.
“Everything is under control, nothing major to report,” said Const. Yannick Ouimet.
Ouimet said the first three playoff home games prior to Monday’s vandalism were largely uneventful and police expect the first part of the Philadelphia series to be a repeat of that.
“We don’t expect anything to happen until maybe the end of the series and at that time we’ll have to see what we’re going to do about it,” he said.
Monday night’s culprits have been described by police as highly organized arsonists who used the cover of a spontaneous downtown celebration by hockey fans to lash out violently at police.
Using visuals obtained from cell phone videos and pictures submitted by the public has allowed police to make further arrests in the case. Twenty-seven people have now been arrested, including a handful of minors.
“Don’t forget that we are with you guys, we’re on your side,” fan Sylvain Lambert told police assembled outside the Bell Centre on Thursday, a sentiment echoed by many fans who stopped to speak with police.
Sixteen police cruisers were wrecked and 10 businesses damaged when rioting erupted after the Canadiens won their series against Boston on Monday.
Montreal police had Quebec provincial police and the RCMP at their disposal in dealing with any problems after Thursday’s game.
Police left those cruisers, the prime targets for hooligans on Monday night, away from the downtown core.
Police cars were patrolling the area but no cars were left unattended by police, Ouimet said.
Instead, officers armed with shields, helmets and batons were bussed into the area.
Cameras were installed in downtown Montreal and a helicopter provided aerial surveillance.
Police decided not to close busy Ste-Catherine Street, Montreal’s main downtown drag.
In a city with a history of Stanley Cup riots, Monday night’s incident was alarming given Montreal’s win only put the team in the second round of the playoffs.
Two Montreal Canadiens players filmed public service announcements urging fans to celebrate with respect.
CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry, during his Coach’s Corner segment on Thursday, said the rioting was all the buzz in the United States.
“They’re not hockey fans, those guys out there burning,” said Cherry, sporting a Montreal Canadiens tie.
“I guarantee you, those Quebec police are the toughest in the world, they would love to do something, they cannot let that happen again, it’s a bad reputation,” the outspoken commentator added.
“First round and they do something like that, what happens if they get by the second round?” Cherry said.
The city has been overtaken by Habs fever with residents living and dying with the club’s playoff performances.
Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper caught a dash of that Habs fever.
“I guess Montreal’s heartbeat is in sync with its cherished hockey team, The Canadiens de Montreal,” Harper told a room full of Tory supporters in Montreal before the game.
Both the Ottawa Senators and the Calgary Flames, the teams representing Harper’s current hometown and his Alberta riding respectively, have been eliminated from post-season play.
“I think I have this authority, now that the way the playoffs have gone, let me assure you for the next rounds the Canadiens will be team all Les Canadiens will cheering for from coast to coast to coast,” Harper said.