MONTREAL – It won’t count in the standings, but Thursday night’s Red vs. White scrimmage was far from a throwaway game.
With no exhibition games on the docket this year, the team’s open scrimmage was the closest thing the Canadiens have to a dress rehearsal prior to opening night. Habs head coach Michel Therrien used the opportunity to help make some difficult decisions regarding his cast.
“We’ll have some discussions tonight and tomorrow morning. We’ll make the final decisions before practice tomorrow. It’s getting pretty clear,” shared the former RDS analyst with a laugh. “Give me a few hours and you’ll know tomorrow.”
The scrimmage gave some players an opportunity to rediscover their timing, while others used it as a chance to build chemistry with their linemates. Highly touted prospect and 2012 third-overall pick Alex Galchenyuk spent the evening introducing himself to the Habs faithful – and dealing with a few butterflies that crept up as he took to the ice for the first time.
“You dream about this since you’re a little kid and now to finally get the chance is incredible,” he explained. “You hear about how passionate the fans are here but until you experience it, you really can’t imagine it. I came out for the warmups and the crowd was going nuts and I was just thinking, ‘This is unbelievable’.”
With over 17,000 fans already familiarizing themselves with how to chant his name, the 18-year-old can expect more of the same if he ends up getting a call-back from Therrien on Friday morning.
“It was my first time playing in an NHL arena full of fans and it was a lot of fun. I was nervous but if I ever get another chance, I’ll be a lot more comfortable, that’s for sure,” vowed the shifty forward, whose home rink in Sarnia, the RBC Centre, has a capacity of just 5,500. “This is by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. The crowd was cheering so loud, I wasn’t even sure if I heard the ref blow the whistle [before the shootout].”
The rookie forward may have spent the night acclimating to life behind the Canadiens bench, but he wasn’t the only one in awe of the experience. Eight-year NHL veteran – and lifelong Habs fan – Colby Armstrong also took full advantage of his debut wearing bleu-blanc-rouge.
|The Habs salute the fans post-scrimmage |
“I was actually pretty nervous before the game. It’s cool in warmups to take it in with so many people there,” admitted Armstrong. “It was good to get the first time jitters out of the way and just take it all in with not quite as much on the line.”
In addition to settling into his new stall at the Bell Centre, the 30-year-old Hab also got to cross another item off his Montreal To-Do list on Thursday.
“I got to shoot twice in one shootout – that’s unheard of! I didn’t think I’d get a chance to go at all and then I got the call twice,” he mentioned, before divulging his plan to improve his future shootout performances. “I gotta sleep over at Galchenyuk’s house!”
Fellow Habs newcomer Brandon Prust wasn’t able to put his fists of fury on full display in the intra-squad scrimmage, but the NHL’s reining co-leader for fighting majors still found a way to put his hands to good use. Having already pulled out a nifty, through-the-legs attempt earlier in the shootout, by the time the 19th round rolled around, Prust managed to pull out an even more creative attempt.
“Coach said ‘Get a goal’ so I said, ‘Ok, I guarantee this one is going in the net’. That was the only way I knew how,” joked Prust, who flipped the puck into Peter Budaj’s chest before slowing plowing Budaj, and the puck, over the goal line. “I think [Peter] was a little surprised; he didn’t say anything after.
“I wasn’t sure if someone was going to come after me off the bench,” he added with a laugh. “The key was Gio [Brian Gionta] jumping over and celebrating because if we hadn’t started celebrating, we’d still be out there shooting. Thank God Gio started celebrating so the other team didn’t have a choice – they lost!”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
Taking it up a notch
Bell and RDS open the doors to the Montréal Canadiens’ locker room in new multiplatform docu-reality series 24CH