BROSSARD - As a Montrealer, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Lance Stroll has caught himself dreaming of slipping on a bleu-blanc-rouge jersey.
It's a dream that hasn't fully gone away even as his career as an F1 race car driver has taken off.
"The thought has crossed my mind a couple of times at the Bell Centre, watching [the Canadiens] play. I was far from becoming pro at the age of 11," cracked Stroll, who said he played goalie at the novice and pee-wee levels when he was younger. "Coulda woulda shoulda."
Stroll, who listed Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, and Carey Price as some of his favorite players growing up, was at the Bell Sports Complex on Wednesday where he got to step out onto the ice with Victor Mete, Matthew Peca, Xavier Ouellet, and Michael McNiven after being given a tour of the club's South Shore practice facility.
The Racing Point driver may have become the youngest rookie to reach the podium in Baku in 2017, but that doesn't mean he wasn't wowed by his surroundings in the Canadiens locker room.
"It's very special, just to see all the names… my name up here. I assume that's permanent," joked Stroll, who holds both Canadian and Belgian citizenship and tries to catch Habs games whenever his schedule and the time change overseas allow for it. "It's really great, the whole day was awesome. I have to say a big thank you to the Montreal Canadiens for setting it up."
While out on the racing circuit, Stroll says he tries to keep up with hockey with his colleagues from time to time.
"The Finns play a lot of hockey," outlined the 20-year-old. "I had a little competition with [Valtteri] Bottas in Barcelona where we practiced a bit with some pucks."
Video: Valtteri Bottas races Paul Byron in five challenges
When he finally got to live out the Montreal dream of hopping on the Habs' ice in full Canadiens gear, Stroll looked like a natural on his skates and with the puck.
And when it came time for the shootout, Stroll - who owns 50 points in the 47 Grand Prix he's entered heading into the weekend - managed to slip one by McNiven, though it's not clear how intentional his moves actually were.
"I tried to do like they do in games, on the knees," recounted Stroll. "I didn't have the balance to do it. I had a lot of fun. It was nice to score a goal."
McNiven claims he didn't go easy on his shootout opponent, explaining that a tactical malfunction might've given Stroll the edge.
"I didn't give it to him, I think he fanned on it. He told me after he was going to his right and he fanned on it, and then went in on his left," described McNiven. "I slid to the right because I could see he was shooting it to the right. But then he fanned on it and it went to the left, so it ended up going in."
After the on-ice session, Stroll told reporters he got a bit of practice in this week with his friends in their beer league, and McNiven felt like it had a positive effect on his game.
"Compared to us practicing every single day, and him only being on once in awhile, you could only be so good. I think he did his job today. He did pretty well on the ice," praised McNiven, who has seen his fair share of shooters after posting an 11-12-2 record, 2.52 goals-against average, .902 save percentage, and two shutouts in 30 games with the AHL's Laval Rocket this season. "I was surprised, but it was a fun day. It looked like he had fun, so I'm glad I could just be a part of it."
With a goal on a pro netminder now added to his list of achievements, next it'll be Stroll's turn to give his new hockey player friends a glimpse of life in the fast lane - something he hopes to do before too long.
Video: Lance Stroll on visiting the Habs in Brossard
"Yeah, someday. It's going to be a little tight for space in [the car]. There's only one seat," he concluded. "We'll have to find the time this weekend to take them out."