This time, anthem is cheered

Reaction follows apology by Canadiens for booing

Hockey

March 23, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MONTREAL - Montreal Canadiens fans cheered during the final verse of the U.S. national anthem last night after a video address by Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau.

In a recorded statement, Beliveau asked the Bell Centre crowd to respect the playing of both national anthems before the game against Carolina. Only a handful of people booed as Charles Prevost-Linton sang The Star-Spangled Banner in virtual silence before the crowd applauded during the final verse.

On Thursday night, a large number of Montreal fans, voicing displeasure with the war in Iraq, booed throughout the anthem before a game against the New York Islanders.

Canadiens president Pierre Boivin issued a statement Friday, apologizing on behalf of the organization for the conduct of "certain fans."

Yesterday, the team asked Beliveau to record statements in French and English that were shown on the arena's video scoreboard before the singing of both anthems.

"During these difficult times, many have an opinion on world affairs," Beliveau said. "Nevertheless, the Montreal Canadiens have been proud to honor both Canada and the United States prior to games for over 50 years, and they hope to maintain this outstanding display of sportsmanship.

"Please, join us here at the Bell Centre in the singing of both national anthems to celebrate the game of hockey. Thank you, and have a good evening."

Also last night, fans in Toronto cheered during the U.S. anthem before the Maple Leafs played Buffalo.

The fans' behavior Thursday incensed many Islanders, who beat the Canadiens, 6-3. Five players on the Islanders' roster and coach Peter Laviolette were born in the United States.

Tuesday night, before a game with the New Jersey Devils, the crowd in Montreal booed the U.S. anthem to a lesser degree than Thursday. More than 200,000 attended an antiwar protest last Saturday in Montreal.

"We are concerned about these isolated incidents of respect for spectator conduct when the anthem is being played," Bernadette Mansur, a National Hockey League spokeswoman, said Friday. "We are working aggressively with that club to remedy the situation."

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