BROSSARD – It may only be a scrimmage, but there was a definite “game day” feel around the Habs dressing room in Brossard on Thursday morning.
In other years, a two-period intra-squad scrimmage wouldn’t have represented much more than just another exercise in the Habs’ lengthy preseason process. In this lockout-shortened season, with no exhibition games on the calendar to play, it’s the only dress rehearsal the players have to get ready for the real deal when the puck drops on Saturday night.
According to Michel Therrien, the fans on hand at the Bell Centre to cheer on their team will be one of the most useful tools the Habs will have to prepare for their season opener against the Leafs.
“Even if it’s just a scrimmage, I’m really hoping that there will be a lot of people in the stands,” confessed the Habs’ head coach, who in all likelihood probably won’t have to worry about too many vacant seats. “Having fans there to cheer is really what will bring the emotion to this game. We’re taking this game seriously as a means of preparation. It’s a great idea and a nice gesture by the organization to have the fans come watch the team train together.”
While he may have gotten a taste of Montreal hockey-mania from the throngs of fans lining up in Brossard every morning to watch practice, Thursday night will be Brandon Prust’s first experience taking to the Bell Centre ice in front of fans there to cheer for him instead of against him.
“Saturday’s coming fast so tonight will be a good way to prepare for that and warm up and get a feel for the dressing room,” said Prust, who agreed that while the main goal of the scrimmage will be preparation and fun, it will also represent a chance to ramp up the level of competition for everyone involved. “I think there should be a good level of intensity tonight. Everyone’s going to be out there trying to get game-ready. We need some body contact, to get in there and block some shots, and then there are also going to be some young kids in there trying to prove a point and earn a spot as well, so there should be some good competition.”
One of the players with something to prove Thursday night will be Brendan Gallagher. After impressing fans and Habs brass alike in last season’s training camp, the rookie Bulldog sees this scrimmage as his best chance to turn a few more heads before the regular season kicks off.
“I don’t know how much you can really show in practice. I just feel that I’ve been working hard and showing the coaching staff that I can understand the system they’re playing and can do whatever they ask,” said Gallagher, who current ranks second on the Bulldogs’ scoring ladder with 10 goals and 10 assists.
“I just want to play well and stand out in any way I can. They’re going to be looking at guys who understand the system and are going to play a team game,” he added. “I’ll just play the way I always do and hopefully they’ll like that.”
With Thursday night marking the first real opportunity players and fans have had to get reacquainted in 2012-13, based on the players’ comments and the fans’ willingness to line up for seats on what should be one of the coldest days of the season, it’s almost hard to tell who’s more eager to see whom.
“It’s going to be a lot fun tonight. I think it’ll be pretty packed in there and the fans will be excited to see us back out there on the ice and we’re just as excited to be back out there in front of them and also to get as much of a real game atmosphere as possible heading to Saturday,” shared defenseman Josh Gorges, before being asked is he was surprised to hear fans had already started arriving as early as that morning.
“I knew they’d start lining up early, but I didn’t think it would be this early,” he said. “But there’s really no surprise – we’ve got the best fans in the world and this is just another example of that.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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