by Jeff Heinrich
The Gazette

everly Best was in a Montreal brasserie with some friends after the game Monday night, when discussion turned to mobs and their mentality.

An expert on fan behavior, Best wondered aloud what it is about sports that makes people go crazy or violent, "other than the fact that everyone is drunk."

As she and her friends spoke, hockey rioters ran amok downtown after the Montreal Canadiens beat the Boston Bruins to end a seven-game playoff series.

"I'm from Vancouver, so I remember a time (in 1994) when the Canucks were in the playoffs," said Best, a communications specialist who teaches at Concordia University's sociology department.

"The Canucks lost the Stanley Cup (to the New York Rangers) and there were these same kind of events: a lot of vandalism, a lot of breaking things and turning over cars."

But the riot Monday night followed a win, not a loss. Why would that upset anyone cheering for the Habs?

Even she can't quite figure it out.

"This can't just be about hockey. It has to be symbolic of something else. There has to be some other source, some other feeling of dissatisfaction that can't be expressed in an everyday way. It's a form of dissent."

Attacking the police is a way to take on authority, a way to get back at a system some people - especially young people - feel oppressed by, Best said.

Two other factors contributed to the hooliganism, she added. One was the mild weather: "We had a really long winter, and people are just pent up and want to get out." The other was the mass media.

"The moment after a big win is one of the rare times when the spotlight is on you, the fan. After a game, where are the reporters and the cameras going to be? Outside the arena," she said.

"It's almost as if they're setting the stage and saying, you know, 'Here you go, we're going to be watching you, what do you have to say?' And what they had to say was kicking over mailboxes, turning over cars, torching things and breaking shop windows."

The game itself contributes, too, she added. "Sports are all about adrenaline and jumping up and yelling and chanting - all that is part of the ritual."

What Montreal saw Monday night was like "a perfect storm, in a way," said Best, who watched the game in a brasserie on Mont-Royal Blvd. E. with her friends.

"It was a perfect occasion for things to escalate. There was a winding-up of emotion throughout the game, a ramping-up and ramping-up until the end, and then comes the release. And what's released is aggression, anger, frustration.

"It doesn't have anything to do with winning or losing. What's being expressed transcends the game."

VIDEO: Habs Fans Riot After 1st Round Victory Over Bruins