More than 400 hockey fans were treated to a show of skill and good-natured fun on the ice, as former Montreal Canadiens players took on a collection of mostly-Hope-based players, Saturday afternoon at the Hope Arena.
Event organizer, Shannon Jones of AdvantageHOPe, said some fans made significant efforts to see the game.
“I spoke to ticket holders from Chilliwack, Mission, Abbotsford, Langley, the Okanagan, Whistler, and I know that some family members of the local players flew in to watch the game,” said Jones.
“Three men from Abbotsford, who had been skiing all morning at Manning, stopped in Hope to grab lunch on the way home. They said they saw the sign advertising the game and they came in, bought tickets and spent the rest of the day in Hope. After chatting for a bit, they told me they could not have planned a better way to spontaneously spend the day and that Hope really pulled it off.”
It was a treat for the locals who were able to suit up, as their opponents weren’t just guys who had made it to the NHL. Most of them have won the Stanley Cup — and multiple times, for some, such as coach Steve Shutt, who was on five Cup-winning Habs teams. He also was the first left-winger to score 60 goals in a season.
Hope’s players, wearing Car Guys Jets jerseys, were also shooting against Cup winner and 1980-81 Vezina trophy winner, Richard Sévigny. They did get some past him… though some might have been to keep the game close.
It was a hopeful start, when Dusty Smith won the opening faceoff against the Habs’ Jesse Belanger. After that, the locals were largely at the mercy of the visitors.
The Habs alumni had no trouble turning it on when they wanted to, as if flipping a switch. At one point in the first period, they set up shop in the Hope end and played pass for maybe half a minute, before making a slick combination to beat Hope’s goalie, John Fortoloczky.
Fortoloczky, who has played internationally with Canada’s Armed Forces team said, “Certainly, they’re on par with the best teams I played in Europe — and if they weren’t retired, I think it’d be really scary!”
Late in the first frame, Coach Shutt called over to the Hope bench, “When are you guys going to score? We’re trying to give you a chance!”
With seconds to go, Jason Besse made a hard shot as he approached the blue line, then burst in to pick up the rebound off the right boards. He passed it to the middle, where Henry Klassen steered it into the Montreal net.
Some thought the time had expired during the pass — and it seemed the officials had been asked to ‘blur the lines’ on their calls. There was no video review available — and the Habs made no protest. In fact, they invited Hope’s first scorer to centre ice for a photo with a few of their players.
Unbeknownst to the sniper, Marc-André Bergeron was sneaking up from behind with a cream pie to plant in Klassen’s face. The crowd loved it.
Before the first ice clean, the Habs played with local Hockey 1 to 4 players, from age 5 to 9.
At one point, Bergeron took the puck and went hurtling down the ice, toward goalie, Ryker Sippel. Bergeron stopped hard, blinding Sippel with a snow shower. When he got his vision back, Sippel was grinning — and the puck was still in the crease.
Hope’s James Leach got the opportunity of a lifetime, when he won the Hope Standard’s contest, putting him on the Montreal roster. Included in the honour was a Habs jersey, with a ‘Leach’ name bar. Post-game, he got all the team to sign it.
“The players were really nice,” said Leach, a former Hope Minor Hockey player and now coach. “We swapped stories and photos of family, their current employment and mine. They couldn’t believe the mountains here and how beautiful it was.”
Leach was on the ice every other shift, so he had plenty of chances to score. He did get one, eventually.
“They kept telling me to get to the net,” said Leach. “A bunch of the Hope players knew the plan, they said, so they kept me tied up or kept nearby.
“I felt so lucky,” he added. “I never knew it would be so much fun. It was definitely hard to keep up, after not playing for two years!”
In the dressing room, post-game, Jocelyn Lemieux said of his new teammate: “He’s not the best guest that we’ve had — but far from the worst! We get some pretty interesting guys.”
Shannon Jones was well pleased with how the day went.
“While I was thanking the players and their tour coordinators, Steve Shutt came up to me and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then said that we did a great job and they had a blast,” said Jones. “The on-the-road coordinator came up to me and said how impressed they were and let’s do it again in two years!”
After a meet-and-greet with fans, the Habs were off for a Sunday afternoon match in Cowichan, part of their 40-game season.
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