MONTREAL - It may be comforting for Habs players to know that long after their playing days are done, there are plenty of opportunities for them to slip on the iconic bleu-blanc-rouge sweater and represent the Canadiens.
Of course, there's nothing stopping them from doing so in the driveways and cul-de-sacs of their neighborhoods, but the Canadiens also give them an opportunity to do so by playing in the annual Alumni Tour, which features former Habs players from many different eras and travels across the country to give Montreal fans all over Canada the chance to see the Canadiens up close.
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It's no doubt a special honor for those ex-players to take part in the Tour. Take Glen Metropolit, for example, who scored more goals with the Habs (18) than any other franchise in his eight-year career - which also featured stops in Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia - and who feels all the good memories well up inside him when he suits up for Alumni games.
"They were the best seasons of my career. To be able to play in a market like Montreal, and the run we had in 2010, it was just a forever lasting memory," glowed Metropolit, who played 90 regular-season and 20 playoff games for the Habs from 2008-09 to 2009-10. "It's a special place for me. There's nothing better than being able to put on that crest and represent the Alumni whenever I have an opportunity."
Former enforcer Chris Nilan enjoyed three straight 15-goal seasons with the Habs from 1983-84 to 1985-86 and won the Stanley Cup in 1986. A much-beloved fan favorite throughout his 10 seasons in Montreal, Nilan has always loved taking part in the games and getting the chance to catch up with friends both old and new in the room.
"It's funny. When you meet up with guys you haven't played with, or you had played with and you haven't seen in quite a while, it's like old times; you don't miss a beat," outlined Nilan, who will be assuming coaching duties in this year's Tour after undergoing knee surgery last summer. "When we go out West, I see Brian Skrudland and he comes and plays some games. Seeing Skruey, it's like we never retired. We talk about the same things. Sometimes we talk about some different things, what they're doing now, but when you win a championship like we did together, you bond together forever, for life. No matter where and no matter when, when you come in contact with those guys, it's a special thing."
Those happy reunions don't just happen in the locker room, either, with the guys getting plenty of time to bond as they make their way from stop to stop.
"The bus rides... we did a trip out in BC and you're on a bus with the guys for seven hours going to another game. You're talking, catching up, seeing what everyone is up to," described Metropolit. "It's a great thing that the Habs have put together for the Alumni."
With a whole host of names from various eras on the roster on any given night, the games - which serve as fundraisers for local organizations in the communities in which they're played - provide an interesting opportunity to see which old-timers still have it.
For Jocelyn Thibault, currently vice president and general manager of the QMJHL's Sherbrooke Phoenix, there's one player who stands out among the pack, and it should come as no surprise to Canadiens fans who watched him in the 1980's and 1990's.
"A guy like Stephane Richer, you could say he hasn't aged. Stephane has always been a force of nature," shared Thibault of Richer, a two-time 50-goal scorer with the Habs. "He's a guy who doesn't change and doesn't age."
Metropolit also pointed to Richer, but noted that there is plenty of talent and skill to go around.
"Most of the guys are in pretty decent shape. Oleg Petrov is one who's always in good shape, Stephane Richer, Patrice Brisebois, they're all guys who keep themselves in good shape," shared Metropolit. "They get on the ice and you can certainly see the difference in the way they skate compared to maybe some guys."
And who's got the biggest mouth?
"Breezer [Brisebois] and Mathieu Dandenault, they like to kind of chirp it up. I had to get my feet wet a little bit, but I kind of like to spark it up a little bit too," admitted Metropolit. "We just have a great time. It's always fun to be able to go to these communities and play games and just see the passion for the Habs."
The best part of the Tour is that the games are a chance for fans and players alike to just have a good time. And that's what defenseman Roman Hamrlik appreciated the most when he took part.
"The biggest thing about it is when you make a mistake on the ice, no one's going to give you a hard time. You come on the bench, you laugh about it, and you go play again," shared Hamrlik, who scored 119 points (22G, 97A) over 312 games with the Habs from 2007-08 to 2010-11 and who now lives in Costa Rica. "It's fun. Definitely, if I go back to Montreal and I have a chance, I would do it again.
"It's no-pressure hockey. So you can try your 360, or you can do cross-passes. If something happens, it's no big deal," he concluded. "It's a privilege and it's lots of fun."
If your organization is looking to host an Alumni Tour game, contact the Canadiens Alumni by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), by phone at 514-925-2550 or by filling out a form at https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/community/canadiens-alumni.