Not even near whiteout conditions during a Friday night snowstorm could stop a crowd of bleu-blanc-rouge adorned fans from turning out for an exhibition hockey game featuring some of their hockey heroes.
A team of former National Hockey League players suited up in Montreal Canadiens alumni jerseys for an exhibition contest against the Swift Current Emergency Services team on March 10 during the Living Sky Casino Hall of Fame Game. The contest was a fundraiser for the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame along with the City of Swift Current’s Safe Places – Youth Certified initiative.
And while the score on the scoreboard ended up 10-7 for the Canadiens Alumni, the game was more about fun and a chance for some iconic Habs to play in front of their long time fans.
The very pro-Montreal crowd had lots to cheer for, with Vezina Trophy winning goalie Richard Sevigny between the pipes, former two-time 50 goal scorer Stephane Richer was a constant offensive threat, and four-time Stanley Cup winner Yvon Lambert guided the team as coach.
Lambert played nine of his 10 NHL season with the Habs and was a 20-plus goal scorer during six of those campaigns. He was a key player during Montreal’s four consecutive Stanley Cup seasons from 1976 to 1979.
“It’s really nice to see,”Lambert said of the turnout. “Even lately when the Canadiens are not going that well that we still have fans all over the country.”
He agreed there is a mystique to the storied Habs franchise which has set the standard of hockey excellence with 24 Stanley Cup victories.
“It’s the Montreal Canadiens. It’s the C H. It’s the tradition,” he said of the reason they have such diehard fans. “Even if they’ve been struggling a little bit in the last year or so, Montreal is Montreal. It’s an all-time legendary franchise.”
Lambert enjoys these alumni opportunities, and he often is asked to reminisce about his playing days, especially about his Game Seven overtime winner which lifted the Canadiens past the Boston Bruins in the 1979 NHL playoff semi-finals.
“They still remember that famous goal and they do still talk about my years in the game,” he admitted.
Stephane Richer, one of just two players to score 50 goals twice in Montreal franchise history, has known about Montreal’s mystique dating back to his rookie campaign with Montreal in 1985-86, when it was common to see the stands full of Canadiens jerseys in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
“We felt like we were home at the time,” Richer laughed. “It was amazing. When I came to Calgary, or Vancouver or Edmonton, fans were crazy about the Canadiens.”
“And now we see the young kids wearing the Price and the PK (Subban) jerseys. It’s amazing the support from the people in the West part of Canada for the Montreal Canadiens. It’s crazy. It’s great. It’s fun to watch.”
He enjoys talking with fans about his successful playing career, where he won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and the New Jersey Devils in 1995. However, when talking to fans in Canada, they quickly turn to his Montreal playing days despite his playing parts of six season in New Jersey and hanging up his skates as a member of the Devils in 2001-2002.
“It doesn’t matter if you play one game with the Canadiens, or you play a lot of games, the people always remember if you wore the jersey once.”
“We’re lucky. Montreal is a family.”
One of the celebrity players on the Swift Current Emergency Services team was Sheldon Kennedy, who was thrilled to be on the Innovation Credit Union iPlex ice despite it being just his third hockey game in the past two years.
“I honestly don’t skate that much. This will be the third time I’ve been on the ice in two years. But when Jerrod (Schafer) gave me the call and asked me if I would come and play, I just think it’s important to give back. And I know some of the initiatives that this is going to help is going to be Safe Places. So if I can give back a little bit and help – I’ve got a lot of admiration for this community and the people here – and we’ve done a lot of great work here over the last few years to move some difficult issues forward. And to me that takes trust and relationships. And if I can show up for events like this and give back, to me that’s really important.”
The exhibition contest was played almost exactly one year since the March 9 online launch of SafePlacesSK.ca, and over a year since the January 2016 viewing of the documentary ’Swift Current’.
“I think it was important I was here today,” Kennedy said while referencing the screening of the film and the launch of Safe Places.
And he jokingly had a simply game strategy to compensate for the few numbers of games he has played over the years.
“I’m looking forward to actually going out and skating on the ice here. I’m just going to feed Holty (Todd Holt). And he can go and skate and I’m just going to keep feeding him…I won’t have to move.”