MONTREAL – Over 21,000 die-hard Habs fans arrived at the Bell Centre Saturday morning to take in a Red vs. White scrimmage benefiting the Fonds Avenir Lac-Mégantic. Earlybirds were surprised by the presence of Canadiens players at the arena’s entrance.
“For us it’s important to interact with the fans,” said Brendan Gallagher, who, alongside his teammates, stood in line to shake hands with every fan walking through the doors of the Bell Centre. “If there’s anything that we can do to make their day, then we’d be happy to do that.”
While Gallagher has already gotten used to the idea of performing in front of a jam-packed rink at every home game, it was the realization of a long-held dream for several other players on the team, including rookie Stephane Fournier.
“Being from Montreal, all my life I’ve watched the Habs on TV and I’ve always dreamt of this. Two years ago, I would park my car across the street and go wash dishes at a restaurant not too far from here. To be able to live the experience now is just indescribable,” he confessed.
After circling the ice in awe on a couple of occasions, however, most of the Bell Centre newcomers were quick to set aside their anxiety.
“Maybe I was nervous for the first shift, but then I let go [of the stress],” said Sebastian Collberg.
Despite missing the first two intra-squad scrimmages of the 2013 training camp, the Swede hit his stride early and was an integral part of Team White’s attack. The same goes for Collberg’s teammate Daniel Briere, who admitted that, despite now being a hometown favourite rather than a hated nemesis, there was one thing he had yet to experience as a member of the Habs.
“It was my first appearance in a game [at the Bell Centre as a Canadien] and it was very cool to see everyone show up and do the wave. But I still started the game on the visitors side, so that felt very familiar,” remarked Briere, who will have a chance to sit on the home bench in the coming days.
The game itself was fast-paced and featured many scoring opportunities denied by Carey Price and Dustin Tokarski on Team White, and Peter Budaj and Zachary Fucale on Team Red. The offensive highlight of the game was provided by the diminutive trio of Martin Reway, Charles Hudon and Collberg. Off of a Team Red turnover, the line counterattacked with speed and Reway finished off the play by firing a top shelf backhand into the back of the net. Measuring five-foot-eight, five-foot-10 and five-foot-11, respectively, the three highly-skilled players may remind fans of the original Smurf Line headlined by Valeri Bure, Saku Koivu and Oleg Petrov back in 2000.
“We’re just doing our best out there. I played with Hudon during the [summer] development camp, so we know each other. Reway made that sick goal today. It’s just our first game together out there, and we all want to get better,” Collberg concluded.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
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