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Millions in playoff profits won't prevent Habs from raising ticket prices

MONTREAL - An unexpected playoff run that galvanized Montreal Canadiens fans also earned the hockey club's new owners millions of dollars in playoff revenues just months after they purchased the team.

"We are fans but it's also been a very good start to the investment," Habs chairman Geoff Molson said Wednesday in a speech to the Montreal Board of Trade.

Molson declined to give specifics on how much profit the team earned from a playoff run that included upsets of the top-seeded Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens were eventually eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference final Monday.

Published reports have estimated that the team earned $3 million from each of its eight home games in the post-season. Fans also filled the Bell Centre to watch the Habs on giant TVs as they beat the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh. The club played a total of 19 playoff games this year, compared to just four last year.

"All of Montreal and Quebec benefited from the success of the Canadiens," said Molson, noting how fan interest helped bars, restaurants and merchandise sales.

Despite the success this year, the Canadiens plan to raise ticket prices next year.

"We will increase ticket prices but it is directly related to the growth of the economy," Molson told reporters.

Club president Pierre Boivin said prices will increase by more than three per cent on 80 per cent of tickets sold in the Bell Centre, which is also owned by the consortium headed by Molson and his two brothers.

The group reportedly paid US$575 million to purchase the team and the arena last year from George Gillett. The American businessman paid US$275 million in 2001. Molson wouldn't say what percentage of the team his family owns.

"We will never be as expensive as Toronto and we want to be around Vancouver and Calgary," Boivin said.

The team will continue to offer 500 seats for young people at a price of $10 and 5,000 seats at $35. It will also make 4,000 tickets available in September for each game throughout the season.

Boivin conceded that the club's management will face even more pressure from diehard fans to produce a winning club next season.

"When you get into the final four and you don't go the distance, it's like you've had a lollipop in your mouth and someone took it out, you want it back," he said.

Since no one in the club was around during the last Stanley Cup win in 1993, this year will serve as a learning experience for the coming season, he added.

The Habs want to be among the top 10 of the league's 30 teams each and every year.

"It's like if (famed former general manager) Sam Pollock had said during his reign we want to be one or two in the league every year," Boivin said, referring to a time when there were only six teams in the league.

Boivin said the team's management will decide what changes have to be made. But the team has proven that "most of the pieces are in place and it all works and they fit."

He credited this season's success to the decisions made on Gillett's watch. But he said the new ownership team's 50 years of experience as previous owners of the Canadiens and involvement in the community will help it move forward.

Molson described the playoffs as an incredible roller-coaster ride of emotions that ultimately proved to fans that they are capable of winning the team's 25th Stanley Cup.

"There were moments when I was afraid of losing," he said. "There were moments when I was really happy to have won."



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