ROBERVAL, Quebec – With a hockey game still another 24 hours away, Day 2 of Hockeyville was one of thanks.
NHL alumni members Rejean Houle, Guy Lafleur, Richard Martin and Donald Audette spent Monday visiting the hockey-crazed folks of Roberval, who ranged from kindergarteners to the elderly.
The morning was spent with schoolchildren, as NHL alumni and mascots – Montreal’s “Youppi” was the star in the a.m. – visited youngsters who asked the all-time greats prepared questions. Nothing was off limits.
At the Ecole Jeanne-Mance/Pie XII in nearby Saint-Prime, the questions ranged from “Were you good?” to “What color was your stick?”
Martin laughed, then answered.
“Mine was black, and all the sticks were made of wood back then,” he responded. “I had a nice career. I made friendships that are still strong today.”
“This is very special for the children, for the parents and for us,” said Dr. Daniel Carrier. “We love the Canadiens. It’s very nice of them to come to the hospital. It’s appreciated. It doesn’t only lift the sprits of the patients, but the personnel – nurses, doctors … we are fans. The whole gang.”
Carrier is one of many who were unable to secure a ticket for Tuesday night’s game between Montreal and the Buffalo Sabres
. But that won’t stop him from heading to Benoit Levesque Arena to join what is expected to be a massive crowd in the parking lot, where the game will be shown on a large screen.
“I’ll watch it outside,” Carrier said. “Tickets inside are rare, (but) I will be there outside.”
After meeting with some patients, Houle delivered a message to the hospital workers who dedicate their lives to those in need. Once again, he expressed his admiration for Roberval and its love for hockey.
“Thank you for your reception,” he said to them. “It was exceptional yesterday, especially at the Jamboree. This morning, we were able to visit the schools, and now we have the chance to visit the hospital. It’s a great honor to meet the people who help heal our children here that are sick.”
After some more pictures and autographs, the NHL alumni headed to the Maison des jeunes – a youth center that is directly next to Benoit Levesque Arena. There, teenagers had the chance to get autographs and play some table games with Houle, Lafleur, Martin and Audette.
Guided by director Simon Collin, the Maison de jeunes provides an opportunity for high school students to hang out in the same place and, more importantly, stay out of trouble.
“It’s to break the isolation of the kids,” Collin told NHL.com. “It’s a place to get together, a place where we look after the kids and where we listen to them. We have staff who are here to listen to kids share their problems and to accompany them in their successes and their personal relationships. We’re there to help them out of any serious trouble if it arises.”
“I listen to the games, but I never thought I’d meet these guys. It’s really something to see the former players interested in the kids. It hasn’t been that long that I’ve been interested in hockey, but I do know Lafleur. I know them a little bit. I know Youppi, so I’m going to get his autograph."
-- Francesca Hudon
Obviously, the older Collin had a better appreciation for the former players who came to visit his facility on Monday. In the end, he’s proud that he was able to play a large role in the overall plan of Hockeyville – and to provide the kids with a memory they won’t soon forget.
“For me who works with kids, it completely blows my mind to have them live this,” Collin said.
“These players aren’t from their generation, but the kids are still excited. It’s a memory that will never leave their heads. For me, it’s mission accomplished.”
On Tuesday, some of the kids in attendance at the youth center will get a chance to see some of today’s NHL players live at Benoit Levesque Arena. While some already secured tickets, others went to bed on Monday night unsure.
“I’m hoping to go the game … if I win the raffle at school,” said 16-year-old Francesca Hudon, who lives about 30 minutes outside of Roberval. “If not, I’ll sell hot dogs outside. They’re pulling tickets tomorrow, so I’m hoping.”
Whether or not she makes it inside the arena, Hudon understands the magnitude of this phenomenal event.
“I would have never thought there would be an NHL game here,” Hudon said. “I listen to the games, but I never thought I’d meet these guys. It’s really something to see the former players interested in the kids. It hasn’t been that long that I’ve been interested in hockey, but I do know Lafleur. I know them a little bit. I know Youppi, so I’m going to get his autograph.”
For 16-year-old Jean-Francois Lavoie Fortin, Tuesday night is his birthday present. While his birthday is officially Sept. 3, his present is a ticket to the game. His father was able to secure a ticket in lieu of owning a hut on Lac Saint-Jean.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve never been to a real game before, so it’s even cooler that it’s in my town. I can’t wait for the game. I watch almost all the games on TV, except for the few times I go to the gym. My favorite player is (Alex) Kovalev.”
Will Kovalev be in the lineup on Tuesday night? Perhaps. Either way it won’t take away from the most important fact – NHL hockey is in Roberval.
“Effectively, it’s a dream, but it’s come true,” Collin said. “It’s happening. I’ve always liked hockey, and to see these athletes come to Roberval, it’s a really incredible sensation.”
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.