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'That was the most incredible moment of my life'

Eighteen-year-old Josh Barrette announcing the Habs' starting lineup is something every hockey fan needs to see

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - If you weren't familiar with youngster Josh Barrette before this past weekend, you definitely are now.

The 18-year-old Chateauguay, QC native's passionate rendition of the Canadiens' starting lineup ahead of Saturday night's matchup against the New York Rangers was nothing short of remarkable.

And when Montreal released the footage of Josh's address on social media on Sunday afternoon, it instantly went viral - and with good reason.

Simply put, Josh absolutely knocked the big-time assignment out of the park.

Video: #HockeyFightsCancer: Josh announces starting lineup

So what was it like for the lifelong Habs fan to speak directly to his hockey idols before battling the Blueshirts at the Bell Centre?

"That was the most incredible moment of my life. I'm a hockey player. I've played hockey all my life. Being in the room with those guys was just incredible. The guys were hyped. There was good energy. It was just special," said Barrette, of the unique experience that has since captured the attention of viewers across the globe. "I had to put a lot of passion into it. Hockey is really my sport. I've looked up to those guys my whole life."

Barrette was in the house over weekend in conjunction with Hockey Fights Cancer night. Back in June, he was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma at the Montreal Children's Hospital and underwent two 21-day cycles of chemotherapy over the summer to battle the disease.

Ironically, former captain Saku Koivu fought and eventually defeated the same ailment, and Saturday just happened to be his 45th birthday.

Barrette actually learned that he'd be stepping into head coach Claude Julien's shoes just three short weeks ago.

He was driving with his grandfather when he received a phone call from his mother, Katia, who delivered the amazing news on behalf of Leucan, an association dedicated to supporting cancer-stricken children and their families.

"When she called, she said - 'Are you sitting down? I just want to make sure so you don't fall.' She told me that I was going to be watching a game at the Bell Centre from a loge, and then she said there was something else," recalled Barrette. "I jokingly said - 'Oh, I'm going in the room, too?' She answered - 'Yes, you are, and you're going to be doing the starting lineup!' My heart just started beating faster and faster."

Barrette had reason to be nervous, of course. He'd just been presented with an awesome responsibility, so the preparation had to begin immediately.

One of his top priorities was to look extra dapper for the big moment. Julien's players have some serious style, and he wanted to blend right in with the rest of the group.

And with a little help from a close family member, Barrette achieved that objective.

"My cousin's a stylist. He dressed me for the occasion. He actually dressed Tomas Plekanec in the past. That was the suit he made for me. It's all custom. It even has my name in it. When I told my family I'd be talking to the team, my cousin said that I had to wear that suit," mentioned Barrette, who received props from his favorite player, Brendan Gallagher, for his attire. "I remember walking in front of Gally when I entered the room and he said - 'Oh, looking sharp, buddy!"

As for his game plan speaking-wise, Barrette had some discussions with both his father and brother leading up to the address.

He even spent a few minutes with Julien shortly before entering the locker room, and the veteran bench boss offered up some advice.

In the end, however, the secondary five student elected to put his own special spin on the longstanding ritual.

"Claude and I talked about how he did a starting lineup. He always starts with the goalie. When I did it with my team, I always started with a center. I asked him if it was okay if I started with a center. He gave me suggestions, told me to take anything I wanted from that chat, and then just go with it," explained Barrette, who ultimately stuck to his formula by kicking things off with pivot Phillip Danault. "When I spoke, I was just going with the flow. I'm natural like that."

Encouraging the players to clap along with the individual announcements wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision.

It's a practice that was instituted on teams he'd played for in the past, and he wanted to incorporate that into his presentation.

"In Midget Espoir and Midget AA, my coach would typically read out the starting lineup. But, I did it sometimes as captain. I'd make a little beat to fire up the boys," said Barrette. "You get the clapping hands going and everyone gets into it."

The video clearly shows players responding to Barrette's enthusiasm, clapping in unison from start to finish and giving him some well-deserved handshakes when he was done.

"Everybody stood up. I got a handshake from Nate Thompson right away and a hug from Gally later," mentioned Barette, who wholeheartedly appreciated his embrace with the Canadiens' assistant captain. "I'm a centerman, and when I play hockey I try to play his style. He's a grinder. He never stops working. I remember I had a lot of eye contact with him in the room, too."

Words to live by

Josh vividly remembers the day he received his diagnosis. It was June 13.

"When the doctor told us, my mom started crying. I didn't understand very much at the time. A lot of people in my family looked at it like the start of a big mountain climb, and we were at the very bottom," explained Barrette. "The diagnosis was the first step up the mountain, and we would have to take things day by day after that."

With that in mind, Barrette wasn't about to let Burkitt lymphoma get the best of him.

His attitude heading into treatment was founded on a commitment to maintaining a positive outlook through the inevitable ups and downs ahead.

"I knew I was going to beat it. It's my body, and I control it," stated Barrette. "Pain is temporary. That's my motto. I think those are the strongest words. Everything is temporary. If you have a bad day, you make the next one better."

After his chemotherapy wrapped up on July 24, he was given the all-clear by doctors in early August. 

The next day, Barrette was back on the ice playing the sport he loves.

While he's feeling fine, PET scans every three months and regular blood work lie ahead to monitor his condition.

Down the road, he's hoping to pursue a career in law enforcement, and perhaps join the Canada Border Services Agency as a border officer someday.

In the meantime, he's focused on completing his high school coursework and getting his body back in shape for the 2020-21 hockey season.

"I wanted to play Junior AAA this year, but the cancer slowed things down a bit. I told myself I'd take one year off just to hit the gym and maybe start again next year," said Barrette. "That speech pushed me to work even harder. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. All of my friends were happy for me. I really enjoyed it."

Photo Credit: Thierry du Bois

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