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Fan-tastic day at the Bell Centre

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens players salute a packed Bell Centre at The Canadiens Fan Practice.
MONTREAL – Despite the frigid, sub-zero temperatures chilling the air outside, Habs fans made sure the atmosphere inside the Bell Centre was more than warm enough at the 2008 edition of “The Canadiens Fan Practice.”

The doors didn’t open until 9:00 a.m. but that didn’t stop fans from lining up as early as 6:30 a.m., to be sure to get the best general admission seats available.

“Montreal is the best hockey city in the world and today was just further proof of that, even with the loss on Saturday,” explained Francis Bouillon.  “We’re really lucky to have the support of such dedicated fans.”

While thousands of fans got a glimpse of their favorite players from the stands, others were lucky enough to step on the ice with some of their hockey heroes.  The St. Hubert Jets 3 and CLL Riverains, two Atom B teams chosen as contest winners through the LRF program, got to show off their skills under the watchful eyes of Christopher Higgins and Guillaume Latendresse.

Then it was time for the Riviere-du-Loup Blue and Gold and the Mortagne Seigneurs to get some input from Mike Komisarek and Mathieu Dandenault.

Last but not least, the Centre-Sud Blackhawks (Atom A) and Delta Laval Ducs (Pee-wee CC), winners of Metro’s skills contest, took to the ice to try and beat Canadiens goaltenders in a shootout.

The future Habs gave way to the current Canadiens for a mini 4-on-4 tournament.  Eight minutes of “regulation” play wasn’t enough to decide a winner in the matchup between the Red team (Mark Streit, Andrei Markov, Saku Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse and Bryan Smolinski) and the White team (Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, Steve Begin, Josh Gorges and Patrice Brisebois).  The Reds ended their contest with a 3-2 win in the extra frame.

The Blue team (Maxim Lapierre, Michael Ryder, Mathieu Dandenault, Mike Komisarek and Christopher Higgins) downed the Green team (Tomas Plekanec, Tom Kostopoulos, Alex Kovalev, Francis Bouillon, and Roman Hamrlik) 3-1 to find themselves in the final.

The grand finale pitted Blue versus Red in a shootout, with the Blues taking it all when Michael Ryder beat Jaroslav Halak for the winner.

Though they’re used to full houses for games, seeing 20,000 fans on hand for these events still leaves quite the impression on the players.

“It’s great to see a crowd like this,” said Streit.  “I remember my first year, I thought maybe there’d be 3,000 people and was really surprised to see a full building.  It’s unbelievable.  I don’t know if you’d have this kind of turnout anywhere else.  It gives kids who might not be able to make it to games a chance to come see us and experience the atmosphere.”

The 2008 Canadiens Fan Practice was present by Metro.  In a contest held in Metro stores across the province, the supermarket gave out thousands of tickets for the event, while media partners RDS, CKAC, CJAD, Le Journal de Montreal, The Gazette, Mix 96 and CHOM also ensured hockey rocked the Bell Centre one more time.
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