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Double-bleu, blanc-rouge

Habs' Plekanec has watched the Montreal Impact grow into a playoff contender first-hand over his years in the city

by Steven Nechay @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL -- Tomas Plekanec has bled bleu-blanc-rouge for 13 years now, but this week, an extra emphasis will be on the bleu.

That's because when the Habs host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, another Quebec-Ontario battle will be being fought in the city, nine kilometers east of the Bell Centre.

It's a playoff matchup a long time coming for Plekanec, who has been waiting for years to see his second-favorite Montreal team go this deep in the postseason. 

"It's definitely exciting to see the Impact in the conference championship," acknowledged the 34-year-old Habs centerman of the city's Major League Soccer club, which will host Canadian rival Toronto FC at Olympic Stadium on November 22 in the first leg of the two-game eastern final. "I've been going to their games and watching them on TV for a couple of summers now, when I stay in Montreal."Video: Impact captain Patrice Bernier attends the game

Since being drafted by the Canadiens in 2001, Plekanec has developed an appreciation for the city's culture, food, and now... other pro sports teams.

"I went to my first game a couple of years ago," explained the Canadiens assistant captain. "Saputo Stadium had been built, but I'm not even sure if the team was in MLS yet -- I think it might have been their last season before joining. After that I didn't go again for a while, until I started spending my summers here two years ago. Now I go regularly."

So regularly, in fact, that he's also been trying to make converts of his teammates along the way. But don't call him the Impact's answer to Toronto Raptors global brand ambassador, Drake, just yet.

"I go with my buddies who are around in the summer -- whoever's in town. Then when training camp starts I try to catch a game with the guys who love watching soccer… which is not too many right now," admitted Plekanec with a laugh. "But some of them do -- and actually a lot of guys play [soccer] to warm up."

While Plekanec continues to warm his teammates to the beautiful game, the Impact has already made inroads in the Quebec sports scene. The team's popularity continues to grow with its success -- over 60,000 fans will be in attendance on Tuesday -- but Plekanec is quick to point out that he's no bandwagon fan.

"I follow the standings and results, and I even watch some of the other league games if they can have a result on the Impact in the standings," pointed out the Czech forward. "But I've been following them even closer since the playoffs started."

Yes, that was Plekanec you may have spotted braving the cold alongside Artturi Lehkonen outdoors at Saputo Stadium on October 30, during the first leg of the Impact's eastern conference semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls.

"That home playoff game against New York was nice, but I think my most memorable game was one with [Didier] Drogba, right after he had signed in Montreal last year," remembered the two-time Olympian. "He was just so dominant, it was fun to see him live from up close. Every goal he scored was a beauty."

Seeing the former Chelsea legend playing right in his own backyard was no doubt a thrill for Plekanec, who this past summer caught a Barcelona game in Spain for the first time.

And just as he's seen the quality of play at home rise over the years, so too has he seen the intensity of a familiar Toronto-Montreal rivalry grow on the pitch.

"I'm not sure if it's at the same level for soccer, just because the two teams haven't been around long enough, but it's getting there," explained Plekanec, who has faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs 67 times over the course of his NHL career, albeit never in the playoffs.

It's hard to argue with a rivalry that comes from 100 years of history between two teams who at one point forced the NHL to institute separate penalty boxes as a league-wide requirement, because the players just couldn't get along.

But at the same time...

"It's still Montreal vs. Toronto, so it should be intense," added the 5-foot-11, 196-pounder, who will nevertheless have to catch that intensity on tape-delay. "I won't be able to check the score during our game against Ottawa, but I'll find out what happened right after."

And if he wasn't playing that same night?

"No chance I'd be ringing the goal bell," cracked Plekanec. "But I would be somewhere at the Big O, that's for sure."

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