MONTREAL – A born and raised Montrealer, Louis Leblanc has enjoyed plenty of nights at the Bell Centre over the years. Thursday’s game against the Flyers took things to another level.
Trailing 2-1 late in the second period, Leblanc pounced on a Mike Blunden deflection to bury his first career NHL goal. The standing ovation he received from all 21,273 members of his fan club in attendance as Michel Lacroix announced the milestone over the PA system is something the shifty forward will never forget.
“It’s always special when you play at the Bell Centre and I got kind of the same treatment in ’09 when I was drafted,” recalled Leblanc who was the 17th overall selection at that year’s Draft in Montreal. “Tonight was just a reminder of how special the crowd is here and hopefully I’ll have even more great moments like that.”
No stranger to receiving showers of adulation from the Bell Centre faithful himself, Quebec City native David Desharnais probably could have given the rookie center some helpful hints when it comes to soaking in the hometown atmosphere.
“That reception he got from the fans was incredible,” marveled Desharnais, who earned some cheers of his own with a two-point performance against the Flyers. “We were laughing about it with him after because he was sitting there stone-faced during it but he just had butterflies then – he’ll smile about it now.”
Fellow Montrealer Mathieu Darche had a chance to spend some quality time with the young star this summer when Leblanc joined some of the Habs in the gym for offseason training. After seeing the all-business look on his protégé’s face during the “Louis! Louis! Louis!” chants, Darche made sure to help Leblanc loosen up and enjoy the moment.
“He played really well and it was a big goal to tie the game,” explained Darche, who helped the 20-year-old celebrate with a congratulatory face wash on the bench. “Obviously it would’ve been a lot more fun for him if we had won, but I’m happy for him. It’s just the first of many.”
It may have taken just eight games for Leblanc to break the ice, but for the homegrown Hab, it felt like eight games too many.
“It’s been a while since I’ve scored if you combine my time in Hamilton and Montreal,” mentioned Leblanc, who scored his most recent goal on Nov. 25 against Lake Erie. “In an NHL game, scoring chances are hard to come by so I’m really happy I was able to capitalize on that one. It’s something I’ll remember forever. Scoring your first goal in any league is special. Goals happen fast and you try to enjoy it, but we lost the game so it’s not a fun moment right now.”
Or at least not quite as fun as it could have been.
“I was telling Darche it feels like 10,000 pounds was just lifted off my shoulders,” admitted Leblanc. “The stick feels lighter and everything just feels better. Now I’ll have to keep going from here.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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