MONTREAL – It’s no surprise to see fans pack the Bell Centre to watch the Canadiens play, and Sunday morning practices are no exception.
Lining up as early as 6:00 a.m. to get the best seats in the house, over 17,000 fans made their way to the Bell Centre on Easter Sunday to take in the annual Provigo Canadiens Fan Practice. Armed with signs and ovations for one of the team’s newest stars, the crowd made sure to show Brendan Gallagher a little extra love in his first open practice appearance. For the 20-year-old rookie, the feeling is mutual.
“We know we have the best fans in the league and they show it every time we have an event like this,” shared Gallagher, who scored his 11th goal of the season in a 3-0 win over the Rangers on Saturday night. “It’s not every day you can sell out a practice. It’s pretty cool that we get the opportunity to play in front of them and to have a day like this where we can just have some fun was great.”
A day after suiting up for his first career NHL game, fellow rookie Nathan Beaulieu got to enjoy another rite of passage on Sunday morning: getting called on to lead the Canadiens onto the ice for practice. Instead of following him out, the Habs decided to hang back and enjoy watching the 20-year-old take his first lap alone.
“Army [Colby Armstrong] let me lead the troops out there, but I guess they missed the call; they were a little late,” joked Beaulieu of the good-natured rookie initiation. “I’ve seen it happen a lot so I kind of saw it coming, but I accepted it. It’s all in good fun.
“It was a pretty loud crowd for just me,” he added with a laugh. “It was pretty funny. Army’s a bit of a clown, so it’s fun.”
Despite experiencing his first real taste of the Bell Centre faithful on Saturday night, Beaulieu was still impressed by the number of fans willing to swap their Easter Egg Hunts for a chance to watch their heroes play in person on Sunday morning.
“It’s crazy. I was talking to guys out there and said this is probably the only city in the world where you’ll get this many people to a practice on a weekend,” admitted Beaulieu. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s the most people I’ve ever practiced in front of, for sure.”
No stranger to playing in hockey hotbeds like Calgary and New York, Brandon Prust has gotten used to playing in front of raucous crowds throughout his career. But the six-year NHL veteran knows when it comes to fan support, nothing comes close to Montreal.
“They all showed up for the open scrimmage we had earlier this year and we knew it was going to be a big crowd again,” mentioned Prust. “It doesn’t surprise me anymore in this city. They definitely love their hockey and they love their Habs.”
The next time the Canadiens hit the ice at the Bell Centre they’ll be back to serious business, taking on the Carolina Hurricanes at home on Monday night.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
VIDEO: Beaulieu's Solo Strides
Highlights: MTL vs. NYR