MONTREAL - A rare visit from the Los Angeles Kings this weekend meant a little more to not only former Canadiens goalie Mathieu Garon, but also his ex-teammate and good buddy Francis Bouillon.
"I met Mathieu while we were both playing for the Canadiens farm team in Fredericton in 1998-99," said Bouillon, who has kept in close contact with Garon. "We remained good friends ever since. It was tough to see him go when he got traded."
After being drafted 44th overall by the Canadiens in 1996 and then working his way through the ranks until becoming Jose Theodore's understudy in 2003-04, Garon was dealt to the Kings in exchange for Radek Bonk and goalie Cristobal Huet in the summer of 2004.
While Garon is certainly not the first person to head to Hollywood in search of his big break, it didn't make leaving Montreal any easier for the native of Chandler, Que.
"Playing for the Canadiens was a dream come true for me," admitted Garon who will turn 28 next month. "Being back at the Bell Centre for the first time is really special. Seeing all these familiar faces has been great. I loved it here. The people, the fans, the organization, everything was first-class. But I knew that with an All-Star like Jose playing ahead of me, I wouldn't see that much playing time as long as I was in Montreal."
While Bouillon certainly misses having Garon to hang out with, he's glad to see his pal finally get the chance to be a No. 1 goalie with the Kings.
"It was definitely the right move for Mathieu," said Bouillon. "Every player wants to get the chance to play. I'm happy for him. All of us are. But whenever we face him, it will be a different story.
"I asked him if he would give me a break and let me score one, but that didn't work," smiled Bouillon. "It was a little weird to see him on the other side of the ice. But we work out together during the offseason and I had already seen him in his Kings equipment so I wasn't as shocked as some of the other guys."
Garon, who appeared in a career-high 19 games with the Canadiens in 2003-04, has already seen action in 16 games with the Kings so far this season as he continues to split the goaltending duties with rookie sensation Jason LaBarbera. Garon's adaptation to his new NHL home has clearly been a lot easier on the ice than off.
"I'll tell you one thing, growing up in Quebec I never thought I would ever go to hockey practice this time of year in a pair of flip-flops and Bermuda shorts. It's certainly taken a little getting used to," said Garon.
Speaking of adjustments, the former Canadiens netminder along his wife Marie-Julie and toddler Charles-Edouard are preparing to celebrate their first California Christmas.
"We bought a Christmas tree last week and it's up now, but I can't lie to you, it is a little strange seeing lights on peoples homes when its 30 degrees and sunny outside," admitted Garon. "My wife is really into it though. She has plans to decorate the outside of our house and the front lawn. I hope I won't come home to find plastic reindeers by my driveway!"
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com