Montreal, the sports city? | A metropolis without junior hockey
When Gilles Courteau became commissioner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (LHJMQ) in 1986, there were three clubs in Montreal and the surrounding area, five if we want to stretch the concept of a large metropolitan area to Granby or Saint Jean.
Today ? This number has gone to zero.
With all due respect to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, whose arena is 30 or 90 minutes from downtown Montreal, depending on the vagaries of traffic, there is no longer any trace of junior hockey left in our great city. , if only memories, only remnants of a distant past.
“Perhaps Quebec junior hockey has become a regional affair,” wonders former journalist Marc Lachapelle, who covered the activities of the QMJHL at Montreal Journal for 36 seasons. I remember a final between Chevaliers de Longueuil and Junior de Verdun, a club that had Pat LaFontaine in its ranks. There should have been 17,000 people per play for it on the Forum… but it’s been a long time! »
Checked, it’s been a long time. The final in question, in the spring of 1983, drew crowds of more than 17,000 fans to the Canadiens’ former home. In fact, the first game of the final between Longueuil and Verdun on April 22, 1983 drew a crowd of 17,860 at the Forum, then a record for a playoff game in the QMJHL.
But things have changed a lot. The Knights are no more, and neither is Junior. Other clubs have tried to plant their logo on the island, often with little success. The last adventure of junior hockey in Montreal is that of Montreal Junior, which existed from 2008 to 2011 before taking the road of Highway 15 in a northerly direction and becoming the Armada.
What happened exactly?
At some point, we clearly saw that there was no longer any arena in Montreal that could live up to our standards. We had to move the teams to the regions where we could do what we had trouble with in Montreal: create a membership system.
In a telephone interview, the former commissioner takes the opportunity to remind that in the Quebec junior hockey world, fashion has never been for new arenas.
“We had three new arenas in 53 years on the field … even though we wanted to continue in Montreal, it became impossible at a certain point because we couldn’t play anywhere,” he adds. We tried pretty much everything: the Verdun Auditorium, the Maurice-Richard Arena, the Paul-Sauvé Center before it was torn down…”
Still, there was once an audience for it. The good days of the last games in the Forum are certainly a bit far gone, but Dominique Ducharme remembers a more recent time when the fans were there when Montreal Junior played in Verdun.
“There was a frenzy from the start, I remember that,” explains the person who was assistant to coach Pascal Vincent at the time. Our matches were presented in French on the radio, sometimes also on English radio. The assists dipped a bit at one point, but it was comparable to what you could see elsewhere in the league. But the owner [Farrel Miller] had an opportunity to sell the club and he chose to do so. »
The Montreal market is also the market for a certain professional hockey club that plays at the Bell Centre, and for the smallest, such competition is almost unfair.
“When we had several junior hockey clubs in Montreal, the Canadiens brand probably wasn’t what it is today,” adds Gilles Courteau.
Admittedly, the Canadian has done an extraordinary job of gaining followers, making one branding, to create an effect. But it doesn’t leave much room for others. The success of the Rocket in Laval is such that the Armada felt it.
Yes, the city is hockey, as the Canadian said not too long ago, but the city is CH first. Moreover, if one day junior hockey reappears here, according to Gilles Courteau, it will not be on the island as such.
“There were a lot of people who came to meet me about a club in the Montreal area, mayors, businessmen … but it always comes down to an arena issue. We’ll see, but if it happens one day, it should be a club that develops a little outside, for example on the South Coast. »
Until then, there will be memories and, for Marc Lachapelle, good stories to tell, even after so many years.
“Montreal used to be a good junior hockey town,” he concludes. We had a choice because there were a lot of teams around here… Back in the day, recruiters used to joke that they could see three games in one night by traveling on a scooter! »