NHL will continue to play national anthems

The booing incident in Montreal on Thursday isn't going to affect National Hockey League teams from playing national anthems in the future, a league spokesman said on Friday.

"We don't expect it's going to turn into a league-wide issue," said Gary Meagher, the NHL's vice-president of public relations and media services in Toronto.

"We're working with the Canadiens today, working through some things to try and deal with the situation. It certainly is an isolated one at this point."

During the Montreal Canadiens-New York Islanders game on Thursday, a few fans decided to voice their displeasure with the United States' war with Iraq, booing the national anthem.

Pierre Boivin, president of the Canadiens, issued a statement on Friday expressing "deep regret" over the conduct of the fans.

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

"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."

The incident in Montreal drew the attention of many Americans. About 20 people started booing the first few lines of the Canadian national anthem during the Ottawa Senators-Atlanta Thrashers game on Thursday night before cheers drowned them out.

The Thrashers immediately issued a statement, saying the club "regrets the actions of a small number of fans that behaved disrespectfully" during the anthem.

There were no boos during the Canadian anthem in Miami, where the Heat were hosting the Toronto Raptors. In Toronto, fans cheered the American anthem before the Philadelphia Wings played the Rock in a National Lacrosse League game.

Meagher said the NHL has made some suggestions to its clubs on introducing the national anthems.

"When Canadian and U.S. team are involved it would be along the lines of 'please rise as we demonstrate our respect for our two great nations with the singing our national anthems,"' Meagher said.

The idea of playing the anthem at hockey games began in 1946 to show respect for the players returning from the Second World War. At the time, only the home anthem was played.

In the 1960s, both anthems were played. In 1987, the NHL introduced a rule saying that both the Canadian and American anthems have to be performed before each game.