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Hab at heart: Martin Petit

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Les Boys, Alex Kovalev, Maurice Richard… The ties between Martin Petit, the hockey world and the Montreal Canadiens are endless. Whether it’s in his work as a stand-up comedian, actor, script writer or simply as a fan, the 47-year-old has always supported the CH. We had the chance to talk to Petit about his past in Quebec City, his relationship with the man affectionately known as “The Artist,” and Stanley Cup parades.

How long have you been a fan of the Canadiens?
I have to admit that I haven’t always been a Canadiens fan. I lived in Quebec City during the last few years I was at elementary school. Those were the glory days of the Stastny brothers, so those were good times to be a Nordiques fan, too. That was my first attempt at being a Nordiques fan, but regardless of everything going on around me I couldn’t really put all of my support behind them. It was good to be a Nordiques fan during the years of Michel Bergeron. Social pressure also had something to do with it. I still walked around with a Canadiens jacket that my mom bought me, though. She picked it up in the early 1980’s, right in the middle of the Nordiques frenzy. I definitely lost a few friends because of that.

Was your room filled with all kinds of Canadiens items growing up?
I wasn’t really someone who’d try to get my hands on Canadiens gear or try to meet the players. On the other hand, in fifth and sixth grade I was a big card collector. I had a huge collection. I had a little bit of a Paul Houde side to my personality. I knew way too much about players I’d never seen play before.

Did you play hockey as a kid?
I wasn’t very good, so I never really had the hockey bug as a kid. I had the chance to live out some of my bigger on-ice moments when I acted in Les Boys II and we made stops in arenas all around Quebec. I had some spectacular experiences, even though they were somewhat staged.

So, it’s really something you developed later in life…
Yes, but I realized that it’s never too late to experience those types of emotions. When I scored goals in the Les Boys tournaments, I still felt chills after scoring in front of 5,000 people – even if the goalie was told to let the pucks get by him. The crowd was crazy. It doesn’t even compare to being on stage and performing. That’s fun, but scoring a goal is even better… even if everybody is moving out of the way to let you go ahead and score.

Which Canadiens player was your childhood idol?
I grew up in the 1970’s, so I saw Guy Lafleur play. I was fascinated with him. I was also a fan of Steve Shutt. I mainly pretended to be those two guys when I played street hockey. Back then, good players would stay with one organization a lot longer than they do now. That was fun. You had the time to love and hate players. I was fascinated by some lines, too. They generally stayed together longer than they do now. There was time for them to develop nicknames. The same thing happens today, but by the time people come up with one, the line has been broken up.

What’s your favorite Canadiens memory?
I was at the Forum when former Habs were honored for the 75th anniversary of the team. I was one of the many, many people who gave Maurice Richard a standing ovation that went on forever. I remember Aurele Joliat falling on the ice after tripping on the red carpet. Everybody was there. It was very emotional. I didn’t have the chance to see Maurice Richard play, but we all felt that everybody wanted to show their support for him. It was the kind of applause I’ve rarely seen in my life. It was a special moment.

Have you experienced similar moments at any point in time?
Well, a little bit later I had the chance to eat at La Binerie Mont-Royal with some very special company right beside me. It was Maurice Richard. It was like I was transported back in time to the 1950’s. He was there all alone, having pea soup. He was retired and just enjoying his time.

Did you talk to him?
No! I told myself that he was just sitting there quietly having pea soup. It was the same for me. I didn’t want to stop the magic of the moment. It was such a nice moment. I wanted to keep it going. I didn’t want to disturb him and have him question who I was. It wouldn’t have changed my life at all. I just really enjoyed the moment. The pea soup was as “vintage” as it gets that day.

Any Stanley Cup memories you’d like to share?
MP :
When the Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup, I was with Claude Legault and Michel Courtemanche in a sports bar on Saint-Laurent watching the game. When it was over, we went to Sainte-Catherine Street to celebrate. When we realized that things were getting out of control, we turned back. One of our friends kept on going right down to the Forum. He knew an RDS cameraman over there. When he arrived at the parking area, he went over to greet him. A security guard thought that he was there on business, so he let him pass. He ended up on the Forum ice all by himself and he picked up a Kings water bottle. He heard some noise coming from the players’ room. All of the old-timers were there with the current players and the Stanley Cup. He went in and got his jersey signed by all of them. When he called us the next day, we didn’t believe him. We realized that we should have kept on going with him! (Laughs)

We know you’ve got a pretty busy schedule. Do you still manage to get to the Bell Centre?
Over the last few years, I’ve had the chance to at least get to the home-opener. My kids are getting to the age where we’re going to have more fun coming to games. I’m really looking forward to having them experience it, too.

Aside from the Bell Centre, what do you think would be the best place to watch hockey?
I’d really like to see the Canadiens play on the road. I’ve seen a game in Toronto. I’d really like to go to Boston. Seeing them win a playoff series in Boston would be incredible.

To what extent are you paying attention to Canadiens games when you’re on stage performing?
In the playoffs, I’m the first one who wants to know the score. It’s pretty common – especially during the playoffs – for us to tell people the score at the intermission or when we start up again. You’re not really surprising people today, though. They’ve all got their cell phones. But, there were years when it was like we were really doing them a public service. It won’t happen during shows, though. People are very respectful.

Now, let’s talk about your adventures with Alex Kovalev. Where did that idea come from?
The producer, Louis-Philippe Rochon. He knows the person in charge of Alex’s foundation for kids. In talking with Alex, we learned that it’s the type of thing he would like to do. My producer told me that. I was in the midst of creating Les Pêcheurs and there were still some episodes left to put together. I knew exactly what I was going to do. It only took five minutes to come up with it. I was going to integrate Patrice Robitaille into the script, and put a Nordiques fan and a former Canadiens player up against one another. I could basically make two dreams come true with one move. I spent three days with Alex Kovalev and I made Patrice Robitaille turn his back on his team.

How much fun was it to work with a guy like him?
It was nerve-racking. You can convince an actor to do something by giving them money and an interesting role. I was really hoping that the role was interesting because for him the money wasn’t really going to make a big difference in his life. (Laughs) I was more worried about the long days on set, which can sometimes be boring. People were all speaking French around him. He was quiet, just observing things. At one point, I was even worried that he’d get into his plane and head home. We would’ve had a big problem if something like that happened… Finally, I realized that he enjoyed watching others. He’s an analytical guy. Talking to him about his approach to hockey, that’s how he played, too. He’d watch the other guys to see their tendencies and their moves so he’d be able to beat them. He’s very perceptive. Last summer, he still wanted to come back and play for the Canadiens.

Which of you two was more intimidated by the other?
I’m not someone who’s intimidated by that type of person. In Les Pêcheurs, it intimidated me more to play a guy like Claude Meunier. He was my childhood idol. When a guy like Guy Lafleur sees me and reaches out to shake my hand, it’s special. My eight-year-old self comes out a bit. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with Alex. I have a great deal of respect for athletes, but any stress I was feeling was more about the quality of the show and making sure that he felt comfortable. It still impresses me to see guys like that. They have a unique make-up. But, he was in my world, so it was up to me to take him by the hand and have him skate along at the same pace as everybody else. It was a funny feeling. He was so simple and modest. We got along really well.

Did he show you his fun side?
MP :
He has such a good straight-face. When we started out, we didn’t really know it. He’s a hockey player. He’s also Russian. Then, we realized that he was really funny. He made us laugh a lot. The beauty of it all is that we didn’t know what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised. He also surprised us at the wrap party. I organized it at my chalet and suddenly we saw him come out of nowhere. He just showed up like that a month-and-a-half after filming. All of the technicians were laughing. The fact that he was coming back for the third season was the real cherry on the top.

If you could invite any Canadiens player to be featured in Les Pêcheurs, who would it be?
MP :
It would definitely be P.K. Subban. He has such great charisma on camera and a good sense of humor. He’s a guy I liked right away as a player. I was instantly amazed with his game. On top of all that, he’s got undeniable qualities on screen. He’s a good communicator. He has attitude. He’d fit perfectly on Les Pêcheurs.

Interview conducted by Vincent Cauchy. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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