NHL hit with criticism over English-only version of "O Canada" on Saturday

MONTREAL — The National Hockey League says it presented an English-only version of the Canadian national anthem on Saturday night because the Montreal Canadiens were considered the road team in their opening game of the league's restart against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Toronto.

The decision to use an English-only version of "O Canada" drew the ire of some on social media, including former Montreal mayor and federal politician Denis Coderre, who blasted the league for the lack of French on Twitter.

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"O Canada" was performed by Canadian crooner Michael Buble while an instrumental version of the "Star Spangled Banner" was played at Scotiabank Arena ahead of Game 1 of the best-of-five series between Pittsburgh and Montreal.

The anthem by Buble, a Grammy Award-winning singer, was recorded at an empty Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

It was also used before the Edmonton Oilers-Chicago Blackhawks game at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the other NHL hub city, earlier Saturday.

A spokesman for the NHL said in an email an English version of the anthem was used because Montreal was technically the road team for its opening games against Pittsburgh.

"Game 1 and 2 of the series are "road" games for Montreal," wrote Gary Meagher. "When they are the home team (Games 3 and 4) — the game presentation and hockey operations will include a number of the elements of a game at the Bell Centre."

A senior spokesperson for the Canadiens organization said ultimately those kinds of decisions in the bubble fall to the league.

But Paul Wilson, the club's vice-president of public affairs and communications, told The Canadian Press that team owner Geoff Molson noticed the lack of French during the anthem, asking Wilson to inquire about why it was the case in a text message.

Some social media users piled on when they realized the lack of French in the anthem — especially given the Canadiens were playing.

The always outspoken Coderre, an ardent Habs fan, also brushed off a fellow Twitter user's suggestion it was a Pittsburgh home game.

Coderre said he'd heard a bilingual Canadian anthem performed at a game played in Pittsburgh previously.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 2, 2020.

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