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Friday, March 21
Montreal fans voice displeasure at U.S. before game

ESPN.com news services

MONTREAL -- The president of the Montreal Canadiens apologized Friday for fans who booed the U.S. national anthem before the game Thursday night against the New York Islanders.

''The Montreal Canadiens organization has always held a high respect for its neighbors and friends in the United States, and we look forward to maintaining this strong and positive relationship,'' Pierre Boivin said in a statement.

''We apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this incident, and would encourage all fans at the Bell Centre to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of our game and our two great nations.''

Despite the apology, there was a small amount of retribution on the U.S. side Friday night. About 20 people at the Ottawa Senators-Atlanta Thrashers game booed during the opening lines of ''O Canada.'' But the boos died down, and there was applause at the end.

There was no such reaction when the Canadian anthem was before the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat NBA game.

Fans booed during the playing of the U.S. national anthem before the Islanders' 6-3 victory Friday night in Montreal. The sellout crowd of 21,273 at Bell Centre was asked to "show your support and respect for two great nations'' before the singing of the American and Canadian national anthems.

But a significant portion of the crowd booed throughout "The Star-Spangled Banner'' in an apparent display of their displeasure with the U.S.-led war against Iraq. More than 200,000 people turned out for an anti-war demonstration in Montreal last Saturday.

''It is our firm belief that this kind of behavior has no place in the context of professional sports,'' Boivin said.

Mark Parrish, a native of Bloomington, Minn., was upset hearing the boos.

"I came to the game pretty pumped up, but once I heard that it really got me going,'' Parrish said. "So I guess I can thank them a little bit for getting me more pumped up.

Parrish later added on The Sports Network of Canada: "If it wasn't for America, who knows what language I'd be speaking now."

Another anti-war protest took place earlier in the day along St. Catherine's Street as protestors chanted "No Blood for Oil" in both French and English. The Canadian government is opposed to the war in Iraq.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people against the war, but some things people can't control,'' said New York's Alexei Yashin, who is from Russia. "They were probably showing what they feel about it.''

Defenseman Mike Komisarek, who is from Islip Terrace, N.Y. and is the only American-born player on the Montreal roster, was asked about his feelings on the war.

"I'd rather not comment on that," he told Newsday. "Just my prayers are with the troops in the Middle East and hope they come home soon and safe to their families."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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