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Habs fans turn out for hockey night in Zagreb

Two bright red Habs jerseys stood out in Zagreb's St. Mark's square as a small crowd gathered to watch Prime Minister Stephen Harper's red-carpet arrival Friday in Croatia's capital.

The NHL playoffs air well past prime time here, but Gordy Samija and Dennis Rukavina have been staying up to watch the games.

The two Croatian-Canadian businessmen are originally from Montreal and Prince George, respectively, but are now working in Croatia in robotics and telecom. They say hockey is quite popular in Croatia both for recreation - it's played outdoors in winter - and as a spectator sport.

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Mr. Samija said there are a lot of business ties between the two countries and Mr. Harper's visit can only help Croatia, which is approaching its 20th anniversary as an independent democracy after the break up of Yugoslavia.

"As a Canadian-Croatian, I'm very proud that my Prime Minister is here," Mr. Samija said.

The Prime Minister's communications director, Dimitri Soudas, later realized the potential for a golden photo op and invited the men to wait over two hours to meet Mr. Harper.

"I did see [the two fans] Absolutely," Mr. Harper told reporters before he went outside to meet them. "It just shows Montreal Canadiens fans take their loyalty everywhere, as we know, in Canada and abroad. Toronto Maple Leaf fans do the same thing, a little more shyly this time of year."

Mr. Harper said he's been quite impressed by Montreal's goalie during this year's playoffs.

"Montreal, it's just a fantastic story so far," he said. "I actually haven't seen anything like this since 1971 when my friend Ken Dryden single-handedly won the Stanley Cup and that's what [Jaroslav]Halak is doing for the Canadiens," said Mr. Harper.

The Prime Minister, who grew up a Leafs fan but says he cheers for all Canadian teams depending on where he is in the country, is hoping a Canadian team wins the Stanley Cup while he's in office.

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After his meetings and news conference dark had fallen, but Mr. Harper made his way outside with his Croatian counterpart, Jadranka Kosor, for a photo with the Habs fans.

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Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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