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No place like home

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Over 18,000 fans packed the Bell Centre to cheer the Habs on at their Sunday morning Metro Fan Practice.

Hours after a big 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Habs were back at home in Montreal welcoming throngs of fans into the Bell Centre for the 2011-12 edition of the Canadiens METRO Fan Practice. The doors may not have been ready to open until 8:30 a.m., but that didn’t stop fans from lining up outside as early as 7:00 a.m. to get the best possible seats to watch their heroes skate.

For younger fans that may not get the chance to make it out to a game over the course of the regular season, the METRO Fan Practice provides a way to see the team up close and personal on their home ice. The highlight of the morning was the Habs’ skill competition where the team had some fun squaring off to see who was the fastest skater, the most accurate shooter and who had the hardest shot.

18,000 fans on hand for the METRO Fan Practice.

“I really wasn’t expecting to see so many people out here on a Sunday morning. It’s really incredible. There were a lot of kids and they all seemed to be appreciating the experience. It’s a great event,” said Raphael Diaz after his first fan practice as a member of the team. “In Switzerland, sometimes there are a few more people out to watch the first practice of the year… but that’s still only about 50 people. Here, the place is almost packed.”

Diaz took part in the hardest-shot portion of the skills competition, clocking a repectable 135 km/h – good for third place. His countryman Yannick Weber looked like he was going to take the honors before challenging Subban to give it his best shot. Subban would ultimately walk away with the hardest shot of the day with a speed of 151 km/h.

“It’s was really fun. I knew that Webby and Subban both have cannons. I was just trying to hit the net,” joked Diaz. “I thought Weber was going to win, but then Subban took it. This is a blow to our national Swiss pride.”

Another first timer at the Habs Fan Practice, Erik Cole notched a couple goals in the 4-on-4 scrimmage the team had to close out the practice but chose to just cheer on his teammates for the skills portion of the morning. One player who clearly didn’t mind was Lars Eller who later admitted Cole not taking part in the fastest skater event was likely what let him take the top honors.

“I don’t make the lineup on that one,” kidded Cole, who was also conveniently able to remember his own numbers the last time he participated in a similar event. “I did one once in Edmonton… I can’t really remember what time I got – but I think it was 13.1 seconds or something like that. What did Lars get? Whatever it was, I was like a spilt second faster than whatever he got today.

“It’s a neat event for fans to come to get to see the players and the skill stuff,” finished Cole who also had his son Landon sitting with him on the bench for the mornings festivities. “They never really had anything like this when I was growing up as a kid, so it’s pretty special.”

Justin Fragapane is a writer for

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