MONTREAL - The Hamilton Bulldogs may not have come out on top in their Bell Centre debut, but they will always remember their weekend in the life of the Canadiens.
Their coach would have liked the two points, but even after a 3-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch, Bulldogs head coach Don Lever knows his players will benefit from their memorable St. Patrick's Day weekend.
"This is truly something special for these young players," said Lever. "I'm sure they all really enjoyed themselves while getting a taste of what life in the NHL is all about."
"The Montreal fans were great today," said Matt D'Agostini, of the 8,013 fans on hand. "We could sure hear them, starting from the pre-game skate. It's too bad we couldn't get them a win."
The road-weary Bulldogs will finally make their return to Hamilton after being away from home for nine games dating back to February 23.
"It's been a tough stretch for sure but this weekend was an amazing experience," said Corey Locke. "Getting the chance to see the game last night and then playing in a building like this in front of all these fans was awesome. It would have been perfect had we pulled out a win today."
After a disappointing 74-point, sixth-place finish in the North Division last season, the Bulldogs are now in second place with 81 points as they eye a return to the AHL playoffs.
Even with 2006-07 standouts Andrei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre and Jaroslav Halak now busy helping the Canadiens with their playoff push, the Bulldogs have kept their bite. Kostitsyn, Lapierre, Halak were in the house nonetheless as they cheered their buddies from the pressbox.
"Sure losing those guys hasn't been easy for us," said Kyle Chipchura, the Canadiens' first pick in 2004. "They were a huge part of this team, but other guys have stepped it up and we have to continue what we started when they were here."
The whirlwind of a weekend was even more special thanks to the two former Bulldogs standouts who led the way for the Canadiens on Saturday night.
"Kush and Jaro playing as well as they did made for a pretty exciting night for all of us," added Chipchura, who is still in touch with his ex- teammates, including Lapierre his former neighbor. "Seeing them doing so well gives us all a lift knowing that their time in the AHL helped them get where they are now."
Getting the chance to use the Canadiens' dressing room was just icing on the cake for Bulldogs.
"Being here today is impossible to describe," admitted an awestruck D'Agostini. "All of us want to call this dressing room home one day. This is something none of us will ever forget."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com