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Lalime, Darch looking forward to Hockeyville game

by Brian Compton
The citizens of Roberval aren't the only ones who are excited about being a part of Kraft Hockeyville 2008.

The players are excited, too.

Considering they play in front of crowds that sometimes exceed 20,000 screaming fans, Hockeyville will offer the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres a chance to play in front of a small, intimate atmosphere.

More importantly, the fans in Roberval won't be treating this like your average preseason hockey game. To these hockey-rabid folks, this is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

"We know how much people love hockey in Canada and Quebec," Buffalo Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime told "Just going there and having an NHL game … I think it's going to be great playing in front of a crowd like this. The people are going to be pumped and it's going to be fun."

Lalime is one of a handful of Sabres from the province of Quebec, as the 34-year-old grew up roughly three hours away in St. Bonaventure. While he's never actually vacationed or played in Roberval, Lalime is fully aware of what these five days will mean to its citizens.

"I've driven through there a few times, but I'm not familiar with the city itself," Lalime said. "I'm sure it's going to be something there. I think it's going to be huge."


Teammate Mathieu Darche agrees. A Montreal native, Darche – who played college hockey for McGill University – is eager to play in a small facility again. Benoit Levesque Arena, which will host Tuesday night's exhibition contest, seats only 1,200 people.

"It should be fun," said Darche, who had 22 points in 73 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. "I know the arena is small, so it should be like it was when I played in college. I'm used to the small rinks."

Certainly, the people of Roberval would appreciate the opportunity to watch any NHL team. But the intensity of the crowd on Tuesday could be doubled, given the fact that the Canadiens will be one of the teams taking the ice. Both Lalime and Darche fully understand that the crowd will be pro-Montreal.

The Canadiens have been the sole NHL team in the province of Quebec since the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995.

"I think it's going to be great," said Lalime, who played for the Ottawa Senators from 1999-2004 and appeared in 32 games for the Chicago Blackhawks last season. "That's the only team left in Quebec now. I'm sure a lot of those people will be rooting for them. I think it's great for hockey to have games like this, going to places that people sometimes don't have a chance to get games. They can't get to Montreal, so now they have a chance to get a game in their own backyard. It'll be great."

Darche admitted that Habs fans aren't the type who go to games simply for a night on the town. It's no secret that Canadiens fans are some of the most passionate in the League.

"I assume some of them used to be Quebec Nordiques fans since (Roberval is) closer to Quebec, but the Montreal Canadiens are a religion in Montreal," Darche said. "It's very important in Quebec. For those people that don't get a chance to come and see the Montreal Canadiens that often, I'm sure it's great for them to get a game in their neck of the woods."

And given their French-Canadian backgrounds, both Lalime and Darche are hoping to crack the lineup on Tuesday night. After all, they may never receive an opportunity like this again.

"It would be great," said Lalime, who is penciled in as Ryan Miller's backup this season. "I'm not sure what the deal will be yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to happen. I'd love to."

Not only does Darche want to play, but he's grateful that the NHL and Kraft were able to provide the citizens of Roberval with events that they won't soon forget.

"Those people don't want to drive the six, seven hours to Montreal to watch a hockey game," Darche said. "It's a chance for them to see pro hockey in their back yard."

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