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Bettman: Montreal lacked venue for outdoor anniversary game

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stands next to plaque to commemorate a 100 years of the league during a ceremony in Montreal, Friday, Nov, 17, 2017. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) The NHL wanted to hold an outdoor game in Montreal to mark its 100th anniversary, but couldn't find a suitable venue, commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday.

Holding an outdoor game indoors at the domed Olympic Stadium wasn't considered, and Percival Molson Stadium, which is 102 years old, is too small and antiquated to stage a regular-season hockey game in the cold.

"We're not ignoring the occasion," Bettman said Friday. "Everyone seems to be focused on why didn't we have an outdoor game. We couldn't do it. We wanted to. We tried, but it just didn't work."

There was some grumbling this week that the league wasn't doing enough to celebrate the centennial of its founding on Nov. 26, 1917, at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.

There was a general managers meeting in a ballroom at the former hotel, now an office and condo complex called Le Windsor, followed by the unveiling of a plaque marking it as the site of the league's birth. Bettman later spoke at a chamber of commerce luncheon. There is also a display of portraits of the top 100 players of the last 100 years and other activities, with appearances of some star players from the past.

That was enough for Chuck Fletcher, the Montreal-born GM of the Minnesota Wild.

"I think it's pretty cool coming here to the Windsor Hotel," said Fletcher. "I'm a big historian, so I love this stuff."

Bettman said the league had already honored the Montreal Canadiens 100th anniversary in 2009 by holding its entry draft and all-star game at Bell Centre.

The commissioner also addressed the status of Quebec City, which has a new rink and wants to bring back NHL hockey, and Ottawa, which has a team but wants a new, downtown rink to replace Canadian Tire Centre.

The Senators hope to convince various levels of government to help build a new arena at LeBreton Flats downtown.

"They know that the useful life of the Canadian Tire Centre is nearing its end," Bettman said. "And in terms of young people and the next generation of fans, I think a downtown arena is vital to the future of that franchise."

He said he never promised a team for Quebec City and cautioned that it is difficult to get a franchise back once a it leaves a city, as the Nordiques did when they moved to Denver in 1995.

Of note was that Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson confirmed that he would not ask for any payment for territorial rights should Quebec City get a new team.

"And I can confirm that Geoff has never raised that issue with me," Bettman said.

Bettman would neither confirm nor deny a report this week that he had met with the owner of the NBA's Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, who hopes to attract an NHL team to the 17,800-seat Toyota Center.

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Updated November 17, 2017

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