MONTREAL - Long snapper Louis-Philippe Ladouceur isn't the only Habs fan inside the Dallas Cowboys locker room.
Pro scout Henry Sroka has been personally invested in the Canadiens' success for years, too.
Interestingly enough, Sroka just happens to be the uncle of captain Max Pacioretty, and the admiration he has for his nephew is off the charts.
Seeing Max's success brings back memories aplenty for the 19-year Cowboys veteran - who Pacioretty affectionately calls 'Kiko'. Sroka had an inkling early on that his future was especially bright.
"Physically, you could just see it. I was a strength coach for 17 years. I remember Max invited me to see a workout back home in Connecticut. You saw the ability, the natural sprint, the explosiveness, the movement. Some people have it. Some people don't. Max had it," recalled Sroka, on seeing Pacioretty train before heading off to the University of Michigan. "They were using sleds with chains and doing lateral movements. It was impressive.
"I also remember being outside his house in New Canaan with my kids and Max was just pounding pucks into the net. It was never ending. Boom! Boom! Boom! It was mechanical," added Sroka, a former running back and kicker at the College of San Mateo and St. Mary's College in California. "I might not understand the game really well, but I know what he was doing was special. I could tell he was a different type of athlete."
Sroka knows professional athletes, of course, having worked with some of the finest players in the NFL for nearly two decades. The way Max goes about his business both on and off the ice actually reminds him of one Cowboy, in particular - and it isn't just any ordinary player.
"He's a big-time guy, our tight end, Jason Witten. They're the same type of person. Jason is low-profile in his training. The guy just works and works and works. Max has that same work ethic and tenacity. They share that same durability, honor and respect for the game," praised Sroka, before expanding upon another key quality the pair has in common. "These guys get banged up and they're still there, battling to play. With Witten, he's playing with a broken jaw or a lacerated spleen, and then there's Max battling back from his injuries over the years. It's amazing."
Sroka couldn't have been happier to see Pacioretty at the top of his game back in January during the Canadiens' lone visit of the year to Dallas when he scored his second overtime winner in as many nights. It was also his second goal of the game.
"My body gets chills thinking about it. Your heart pumps a little faster there. It's exhilarating. We're the visiting team in that case and we're surrounded," cracked Sroka, who watched Pacioretty take a tape-to-tape pass from Jeff Petry and beat goaltender Kari Lehtonen five-hole just 19 seconds into the extra frame. "Sometimes, you're supposed to be calm and collected, but when stuff like that happens, you erupt. There was a lot of yelling and hugging."
Unlike last year, though, when the Canadiens landed in Texas in the wee hours of the morning on game day fresh off a win in Nashville, this time around Claude Julien's contingent is scheduled to arrive the day prior to the matchup at American Airlines Center on Nov. 21, so a big dinner might be in store. Sroka already has the date circled on his calendar, in between home games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers.
"We count the days until we see the Canadiens. Hopefully, Max's sister [Christine] will be in town, so it'll be a family reunion. She also lives in Dallas," said Sroka, who always looks forward to post-game meet-and-greets with the Canadiens captain. "We'll get the chance to hug him and wish him the best. That's what we do."
Video: MTL@DAL: Pacioretty pots OT winner, sets Habs' record
Sroka hasn't been to Montreal to see Max ply his trade at the Bell Centre before, but it's definitely on his wish list. In the meantime, he's sending positive vibes his nephew's way via text, until that much-anticipated get-together comes along in the Lone Star State three-plus months from now.
"I just want him to stay healthy and continue being the leader he can be and bring positive results," said Sroka, who is happy to talk hockey and all-things Max with Ladouceur every chance they get. "Like Coach Parcells used to say - 'You just find a way to get to that tournament.' You work for it. You prepare for it. You just keep competing and never stop."