MONTREAL — If the first two Canadiens games are any indication, lingering fan anger over the lockout probably won’t make a discernible dent in ticket sales.
The Canadiens season opener on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs is sold out and there are only a few tickets left for Tuesday’s game at the Bell Centre against the Florida Panthers.
Tickets for the two games went on sale Sunday after the lockout officially ended.
“This was a very good start,” said Donald Beauchamp, Canadiens senior vice president, communications and community relations.
“It’s exactly like in the past,” Beauchamp said.
Individual game tickets for the Canadiens’ 22 other home games go on sale this coming Sunday.
The last time the Canadiens didn’t sell out the 21,273-seat Bell Centre was in January 2004, the season before the last National Hockey League lockout.
The Canadiens announced details on Monday of their plan to let people attend an intra-squad game at the Bell Centre for free on Thursday as well as the Habs and Leafs morning skates on Saturday, part of a bid to make amends to fans for the lockout.
Thursday’s game will be two periods, coach Michel Therrien said. The team is calling up five players from the Hamilton Bulldogs for the game, including Louis Leblanc, Frédéric St-Denis and Mike Blunden.
The game starts at 7 p.m. and the Bell Centre doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Seating is first-come, first served. The team is promising everyone who attends a free hot dog, chips and a soft drink.
For the morning skates on Saturday, the doors at the Bell Centre open at 9 a.m. The same “free combo meal” is on the menu. The Canadiens practice at 10:30 a.m. and the Leafs an hour later.
Beauchamp said they don’t have expectations about how many people will show up.
A few other small initiatives aimed at fans are in the works but haven’t been announced yet.
Season-ticket holders have had their tickets since September, Beauchamp said. Of the 24 games scheduled until the end of the season, only four are identical to the original schedule. For the other games, Beauchamp said season-ticket holders will receive stickers to put on their tickets.
Tony Patoine, a CEGEP philosophy teacher who launched Facebook pages during the lockout for hockey fans “fed up with being taken for granted by the NHL,” plans to stick to his vow and not buy tickets to any games this season.
“I was happy yesterday to keep my credit card in my wallet,” Patoine said.
However, since the Canadiens training camp started on Sunday, people have gathered at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard to watch the team.
Nicholas Marois, a 31-year-old flooring salesman, drove in from Gatineau on Monday to watch the team. He was wearing a Habs jersey with his favourite player’s name on the back — P.K. Subban.
“For sure we’ll go to games. We’re real fans. I won’t boycott the Canadiens for that,” Marois said of the lockout.
It was time for the season to start, Marois said. “We missed hockey. It’s our national sport.”
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