BROSSARD - Mikhail Sergachev will be privy to a very unique and special experience on Tuesday night.
After being a healthy scratch against Ottawa over the weekend, the 18-year-old Russian defenseman draws back into the lineup for the Canadiens' home-opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins where he'll be introduced to the Bell Centre faithful during the pre-game ceremonies, along with the rest of his teammates.
He'll also be donning Canadiens colors in front of his parents, Aleksandr and Liudmila, and his 12-year-old sister, Anna, who all made the long trek to Montreal from Sergachev's hometown of Nizhnekamsk, located 1,100 kilometers east of Moscow.
According to Sergachev, it's been about six months since his family last saw him play in person. That was during his rookie year with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires last season.
"It's the best moment of my life and of their lives, too," shared Sergachev, who will likely be patrolling the Canadiens' blue line with Alexei Emelin on Tuesday night against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. "They put me in hockey. I'm their son and they're so proud of me. This is special."
Video: Sergachev on his return to the lineup
Sergachev enters the second game of his NHL career having watched the Canadiens' most recent outing from the press box, which he believes did him some good following a somewhat shaky outing in Buffalo last Thursday. It gave him the opportunity to examine some of the intricacies of his position from afar and put him in the proper frame of mind for his upcoming start.
"That was a good experience for me, actually, because I've learned so many things. I've been sitting with the coaches and they've been telling me about some mistakes from our team and from Ottawa," mentioned Sergachev, who will play in favor of Greg Pateryn against the Penguins. "I just learned how to move the puck quickly and where to pass, so just pretty simple stuff."
In his post-practice press conference on Monday, head coach Michel Therrien said the timing was right to put Sergachev back out there following a one-game absence. It will be another chance for the Canadiens' No. 22 to acclimate himself to the speed of the NHL game - which should be particularly high against the likes of the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, among others.
"We took a step back, but we don't want to take too big of a step back with him, either. That's one of the reasons why we're putting him back in the lineup," said Therrien, on the subject of getting Sergachev back to work quickly. "He needs to get used to the tempo of the NHL. We're playing against the Stanley Cup champions, so the tempo will be very fast. It's a challenge, not only for him, but for our entire team."
Video: Therrien on his decision to play Sergachev on Tuesday
That challenge is something Sergachev is excited about. Slowing down a player of Malkin's calibre certainly won't be easy, but the Canadiens' first-round selection in 2016 - ninth overall - can't wait to give it his best shot.
"I'm just expecting a good game from our team. I don't actually care what Pittsburgh is going to bring to the table. We're just going to play our game and we're going to have fun at the Bell Centre, for sure, because it's going to be packed," shared Sergachev, who recently became the youngest defenseman to ever suit up for the CH at 18 years and 110 days old - and the fourth youngest player in franchise history. "It's going to be an unbelievable ceremony before the game, so I'm just looking forward to it."
As is Therrien, who has high hopes for his young charge as he grows more and more comfortable with his tasks at hockey's highest level.
"This is a great story. The kid is 18 and he's going to play his first game at the Bell Centre on opening night. I'm glad his parents are able to come and see him play," concluded Therrien. "It's going to be a special night for him."