COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs fever in Quebec as Montreal continues its run to the playoffs – .

COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs fever in Quebec as Montreal continues its run to the playoffs – .

MONTREAL – The sun had yet to rise in Montreal on Friday morning when a contingent of Ontario hockey fans prepared to descend on the city ahead of what they considered a monumental hockey game.

The Montreal Canadiens were set to face the Las Vegas Golden Knights, marking the first time since 2014 that the team had advanced to the National Hockey League semi-finals, and Alexander Vizier and his friends had no intention of to miss the game.

The group had driven 17 hours from the community of Marathon in northern Ontario just to watch the game.

Vizier said the excitement of the trip was compounded by the relief he offered from recent pandemic-related events, saying he was happy to drop talks on COVID-19 and focus on the fever instead. Tricolor.

“It’s even more monumental because we are coming out of COVID-19,” Vizier said in an interview. “It’s even better than normal. “

The buzz strong enough to draw fans from other provinces was also filling the residents of Quebec with enthusiasm.

Philippe Fontaine drove his family for 14 hours from Sept-Îles, Quebec, to see his team in action. Fontaine, who last saw the Canadiens play over seven years ago, said he couldn’t miss what he called a once-in-a-lifetime event, especially after a year of physical distancing.

“It’s amazing to go out for that, to go for a walk,” he said, before singing Go Habs Go with his family.

The Habs, like other NHL teams, had played in empty arenas for much of the year thanks to measures banning fans from meeting in person and potentially spreading COVID-19. But the team’s playoff run has coincided with the easing of many provincial public health restrictions, including the reopening of restaurants and bars.

Fans were also welcomed back into the crowd as the Canadiens moved deeper into the playoffs. The government cleared the way for 2,500 fans to attend games in person last month before raising the capacity limit to 3,500 for sporting events and festivals the day before Friday’s game.

For Stuart Ashton, co-owner of a sports bar in downtown Montreal, the combination of the Habs’ on-ice success, the drop in COVID-19 cases and relaxed public health measures are contributing to the feeling that something important is in progress.

“There is just a buzz in the air, everyone is excited about the Habs performance, and it coincides with the reopening of bars and restaurants,” said Ashton.

Ashton started working at McLean’s Pub in 1995, two years after the Habs last won the Stanley Cup. He said this year’s long-awaited playoffs were different.

“With every game it’s a level up and it just gets more and more exciting,” said Ashton. “It’s also good for the business, we were closed for eight months before that. It’s a big part of getting back on track. “

Santana Enrique, owner of Sports Crescent in Montreal, also said he attributes his store’s recent economic boon to Habs fever.

Until Montreal knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the playoffs at the end of May, no one wanted to buy hockey merchandise, Enrique said.

“Now it’s a virus, not COVID-19, but the Habs virus where everyone gets hooked,” he said.

Vizier, Fontaine and other fans watched their team beat the Golden Knights 3-2 on Friday night, allowing the Habs to take a 2-1 lead in the Top Seven series.

The teams will face off again in Montreal on Sunday at 8 p.m.

Enrique said he hopes the team’s good fortune leads to both another Stanley Cup victory and an even stronger feeling that life could return to pre-pandemic norms.

“We’re like living a normal life,” he said. “We are living the life of 1993.

– this report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 19, 2021.


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