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Drouin has fun in Canadiens debut of sorts

Forward says scrimmage before crowd estimated at 16,000 'definitely different'

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- This was Jonathan Drouin's first day in a Montreal Canadiens game jersey, worn Sunday during the annual Red vs. White fan-friendly intrasquad matinee at Bell Centre:

He was interviewed five minutes before the 1 p.m. faceoff from his bench for the benefit of the crowd estimated at 16,000. The cheers from the young fans nearly lifted the roof off the building;

Drouin's first shot, on his first shift, drilled goalie Carey Price in the mask;

Late in the second period of the game, which was two 30-minute halves with a 3-on-3 overtime and bonus shootout offered at the end, he was clipped on the bridge of the nose by the accidental high stick of Team Red defenseman Noah Juulsen, a trickle of blood drawn;

 

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Drouin was foiled by goalie Charlie Lindgren on his shootout attempt;

And then in the dressing room, he faced the media gathered around for his reaction to it all. 

Three camera crews and a dozen or more reporters.

For a scrimmage.

Welcome to Montreal.

"That was a fun atmosphere for a scrimmage. It was definitely different for me," Drouin said with a grin.

With 164 NHL games under his belt with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Drouin arrived in Montreal in a trade with almost similar expectations as those faced by the legendary Guy Lafleur, who played his maiden NHL game with the Canadiens exactly 46 years to the day of the scrimmage Sunday.

Starved for an offensively gifted French-Canadian not seen in these parts since Stephane Richer and Vincent Damphousse in the 1980s and '90s, fans and the media already have Drouin, a 22-year-old from Sainte-Agathe, Quebec, under one of hockey's largest microscopes.

He was suffocated, in a good way, by the fans' love Sunday, skating with linemates Max Pacioretty and Ales Hemsky. Every stride Drouin takes on the ice this season, and every step off it, will be scrutinized. It's something he fully expects.

Now, about that shot to Price's head before either had broken a sweat?

"I told him, 'I'm sorry,'" said Drouin, who signed a six-year contract June 15, hours after he was traded to Montreal. "The puck was on its edge when I shot it. It was the first couple of shots for him this year, and one in the head definitely [wasn't nice]."

Drouin was returning to the Bell Centre dressing room where he sat last September during the World Cup of Hockey 2016 training camp, a member of Team North America. He views the room now with different eyes, with one signature having become a vital cog in the Canadiens' gears.

"It's definitely still cool when I come here and see the logo and all the faces. It's awesome," Drouin said, the portrait of every Canadiens Hall of Famer displayed over the stalls.

Across the room stood veteran center Tomas Plekanec, the longest tenured player on this team who has skated all 921 of his regular-season NHL games for the Canadiens since he broke into the League in 2003-04.

Whereas there were two rosters stocked with prospects fighting for jobs in the scrimmage, Plekanec's spot is secure. He scored two goals for Team White, which history will show won the scrimmage 3-2.

"The start of the season is always as important for us as individuals as it is for the team," said Plekanec, 34, who skated on a line with hungry prospect Charles Hudon, who had three assists, and Artturi Lehkonen. "You want to start strong, not take it lightly and just cruise through training camp. You know your body a little more than the young guys and know what you can push through."

Speaking of graybeards, you could add defenseman Mark Streit, 39, back with the Canadiens after a decade elsewhere to score the game-winner in overtime on a wraparound, of all things. 

And in an eight-round shootout thrown in to send the crowd home happy, Team Red's Brendan Gallagher was the only shooter among 16 to score, and he was the last man up for Team Red.

If Canadiens hockey is indeed a religion in this city, as often is suggested, church on this magnificent autumn Sunday afternoon included pregame activities for kids, face-painting, music and then a scrimmage that was followed by a full-dress postgame introduction of the 2017-18 Canadiens to many hundreds of fans jammed into a raucous plaza outside the arena.

After a couple days of practices and drilling systems into his players, coach Claude Julien expressed satisfaction at the up-tempo session he'd just witnessed.

"I liked the pace of the game today," Julien said. "I also saw a lot of things we were teaching the last couple of days. You could see the players really concentrating on doing those things right. They might have been thinking a little more today because it's new to them, but by the end of camp it should be second nature."

The Canadiens begin their preseason schedule Monday in Quebec City against the Boston Bruins, Julien saying that he'll stock that lineup with many French-Canadian players out of respect for the population of the provincial capital and because many of those in camp have ties to hockey in the city.

Three more games follow this week, at home Wednesday against the Washington Capitals and Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, then on the road Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

If you're one who wagers, you'd be safe to bet Drouin being in the lineup in Quebec City before you lay a dollar on another Streit overtime wraparound winner.

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