MONTREAL – While the Canadiens Adult Fantasy Camp might have come to a close, those in attendance will remember the experience for the rest of their lives.
Participants were privy to a unique look inside the Canadiens’ universe, exploring many facts of the organization during the three-day program.
|Fantasy Camp participants, in a suite during January 17 game vs. the Islanders. |
Not only did participants hit the ice for practice, but they also took in several games, including the Habs’ tilt on January 15 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, and a contest against the New York Islanders on January 17 at the Bell Centre in a loge alongside Canadiens legends, including Guy Lafleur, Rejean Houle, Yvon Lambert, Chris Nilan and Patrice Brisebois. In addition to rubbing shoulders with Habs greats away from the rink, they also had the opportunity to play with them, suiting up for a game prior to the battle against Long Island.
“It’s incredible to see how the guys made time for us and made themselves available,” offered Stephen Vanier, who made the trek to Montreal from New York State. “During the game, I froze a couple of times. I was looking all around me, taking everything in and taking the time to enjoy the moment. Mathieu Dandenault was on my line and Guy Lafleur was my coach. Something like that never happens.”
If they imagined themselves skating alongside the likes of Chris Nilan or even Oleg Petrov as kids, the Canadiens Adult Fantasy Camp ultimately made those dreams a reality. Habs alums were on hand for the duration of the experience, lacing up their skates not only for the game on Saturday, but also for practices to put a few tricks of the trade on display.
“I still haven’t had a chance to digest everything that happened over the weekend. It’s hard to say what I liked the most. There were just so many different experiences,” mentioned Vanier, a 48-year-old attorney in Malone, NY. “The most intense moment was probably during the game. I was sitting down and I said to myself: ‘This is really happening.’ I found myself sitting on the bench alongside Guy Lafleur, Murray Wilson, Patrice Brisebois, Mathieu Dandenault, all of these guys I watched on television growing up.”
The Canadiens even thought of hiring former NHL referee Dan Marouelli to work the game. Marouelli boasts 1,622 games of NHL experience under his belt during the regular season. He’s also refereed 187 postseason games, too. While his presence wasn’t necessarily required, it was greatly appreciated by everyone involved.
“I’m not a big hockey player, but what I liked about the alums is that they were able to bring their game to a level that matched the calibre of all the players involved,” explained Vanier, who didn’t light the lamp, but still very much enjoyed the chance to play with his son, Elliott, who he brought along as his guest. “Skating on the Bell Centre ice is one thing, but to be given the opportunity to have a puck and a stick out there is something else. Playing a game in such an incredible place is magical. I’m happy that I got to experience it all with my son.”
It’s safe to say all 25 Adult Fantasy Camp participants left the Bell Centre with plenty of good memories, some new contacts in their cell phones and a firm promise to see one another again soon.
Until next year!
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.