Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Montreal gets another shot at professional lacrosse

When I arrived at the Bell Centre for a press conference to formally announce a National Lacrosse League pre-season game on December 15 between the Toronto Rock and the Rochester Knighthawks I looked around to see if Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson was in attendance.  He does run evenko and the Bell Centre as well and with the Habs in lockdown mode, you figure he might have made an appearance. Then again, it is pretty clear that the only questions he’d be fielding would be about the progress of negotiations (or non-negotiations).
It has been 10 years since professional lacrosse last graced the floor of the Bell Centre. That is when the Montreal Express tried its luck and failed. On the eve of my 50th birthday I have better memories of the Montreal Québecois, which played at the old Forum in the mid 1970s and developed quite a following. My late dad took my brother and I to a few games and we loved the end to end action, the physical contact and the roar of the crowd. The team’s big star was named John Davis and former Habs enforcer, the late John Ferguson, actually served as head coach.
Martin Routhier, the former president of the Montreal Juniors, was working on bringing a franchise in a Canadian Lacrosse League to the Verdun Auditorium last year. It did not pan out. Now he is on board as the promoter of this event and by all indications it will be a big success.
The Rock play before crowds of 11,000 plus fans each game in Toronto.  NLL Commissioner George Daniel made no secret about the fact this game could serve as a prelude to Montreal getting a franchise. Pierre Filion, the impeccably bilingual director of the Quebec Lacrosse Federation, brought with him a Montreal Québecois jersey and noted that in only four days he had sold 1,500 tickets to local lacrosse associations for the December 15 match.
Filion displays his Québecois jersey.
“A professional team contributes significantly to the local development and visibility of a sport and lacrosse is no exception,” Filion said. “The sport is experiencing a rapid growth  in popularity in North America, Europe and Asia. This is a growing trend and Quebec has all the groundwork in place to enjoy this rise in popularity. The possible arrival of a professional lacrosse team in Montreal will help launch further development of the sport.”
There is no question that Molson will be paying close attention to this game as he is  the logical owner for a new franchise, which costs $3 million.
If the NHL lockout continues through December, which appears to be a distinct possibility right now, I predict a very good crowd for the game. As for the league, Daniel was polite when asked if the lockout would be good for his product if it continues past January 2013 when the NLL regular schedule gets underway. “Well,” he said, “three of our owners also have NHL teams so I have a mixed reaction. But an opportunity to get a little more exposure is a good thing.”
Garrett Billings
Toronto Rock owner Jamie Dawick and star player Garrett Billings were on hand at the press conference.  Billings had an incredible 35 goals and 96 assists in 19 regular season games last season.
There is no question that many sports fans here are starving for action. Yes, this lockout is absolutely ridiculous! Why do the owners allow their dictator of a commissioner, Gary Bettman, to dig such a hole for them and the league? Why are the players not pushing Donald Fehr to broker a deal? If Bettman cancels the January 1 Winter Classic, then we can kiss the 2012-2013 season good-bye and events like lacrosse will become financial windfalls.
Tickets go on sale on Saturday, October 13 (9 a.m.) at the Bell Centre box office, by phone (514-790-2525 or 1-877-668-8269) or online at Prices are $33.50, $45.50 and $65.50 (service fees included).
 Here is my video interview with Garrett Billings.

Below  Billings scores a terrific goal.

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