BROSSARD - You might have noticed Charles Hudon's ritual every time he scores a goal: the young forward celebrates by making a sign of the cross before pointing up to the sky. The gesture has a special meaning for No. 54, in tribute of a friend taken too soon who will always be a part of him.
Nicholas Antonelli and Hudon were childhood friends who were inseparable. They lived a few streets over from each other as kids and were minor hockey teammates.
The two boys skated together in Atom and Novice. Then, Hudon's hockey journey took him to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, while Antonelli chose to move to the pitch to focus on soccer.
"He was a goalie - he was our best goalie, actually," remembered Hudon, who still gets overcome with emotion when talking about his friend. "We won several tournaments together."
On a fateful Saturday night in August 2011, after a party at a friend's house, Nicholas decided to walk home instead of driving or getting in a car with someone who had been drinking.
"He was hit by one of his brother's friends after the party. That friend had decided to drive when he wasn't in a state to do so. Nick made a choice because he wanted to be careful and he's the one who got hit. We were both 17 years old," recounted Hudon, who is now 23. "It's been a little while, but it's still difficult to talk about, to think that he made the right decision and it backfired on him. It's tough."
These days, Hudon is still close with his friend's mother and brother, Pietro, with whom he played hockey this summer.
"I know he's always with me and he always will be. I talk to him a lot," admitted Hudon. "When I'm at home alone, we talk."
The death of his friend has certainly made Hudon conscious of the importance of not drinking and driving. Hudon has become a self-admitted "safety sheriff" of sorts at parties, taking it upon himself to confiscate keys or arrange other modes of transportation for fellow revelers.
"Among my family and friends, everyone knows that they're not allowed to drink and drive. I don't mind being the nag or paying for the taxi, I don't care," asserted the young father. "Otherwise, they stay over. It's not a prison, obviously, but we'll try to get them to stay. We have plenty of mattresses, so it's easy for people to sleep over and make good choices."
Obviously, Hudon would've liked for his friend to be around to watch him as he battles for a spot in the NHL. Instead, he uses Nicholas' absence as a source of strength on the ice. It helps drives him every shift, and Hudon hopes he'll be glancing up and pointing in honor of his friend as often as possible this year, and throughout his hockey career.
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