LAC MÉGANTIC – Fans across the province have never been shy about showing their devotion to the Montreal Canadiens. On Thursday afternoon, the team found a way to support them right back.
When the Habs hit the ice for practice on Thursday in Lac Mégantic, it had very little to do with hockey. Three months after a train derailment and subsequent explosion devastated the small town of roughly 6,000, the Canadiens wanted to show their neighbors to the east that they’re still in everyone’s thoughts. Making the 250 km trek from Montreal to skate in front of a standing-room crowd of about 1,200 at the Centre sportif Mégantic may seem like a long commute for a practice, but for Francis Bouillon, it was a no-brainer.
“Especially for the Quebecers on the team, we all heard the news and followed it on TV when it happened. You just think about the people here and the families who lost loved ones,” shared Bouillon, who was born in New York but raised in Montreal. “Driving three hours to be here wasn’t a sacrifice for us at all. We’re proud to be here and as a Quebecer, you know what they’ve been through and you know what this means to them and it’s something we’re happy to do.”
In addition to raising over $800,000 for the Fonds d’Avenir Lac-Mégantic since the accident on July 6, the Canadiens also hosted a benefit concert in the summer, bussed in 500 people from the community to the Bell Centre for preseason games and held a special Red vs. White scrimmage on September 14 in support of the cause.
“In the week following the event, we probably had about 150 different ideas for how we could get involved and help out,” explained owner, president and CEO, Geoff Molson. “The event today is not about raising money; it’s about putting smiles on people’s faces and showing our support for the people in this community.
“I drove here this morning and coming around the corner, it was a tough sight to see,” he added of the closed off construction site next door to the arena. “The people are here today and they’re happy and it seems like the city is being rebuilt. We’re proud to be here and we’re hoping that by being here we’re giving them some encouragement.”
Creating some positive memories to replace the devastating ones the people in the community have experienced in recent months is something Lac Mégantic mayor Colette Roy-Laroche is hoping will help her town bounce back.
“For people in this city, this is an incredible event. It’s a dream come true to have the Canadiens here in Lac Mégantic,” praised Roy-Laroche, who is in her 11th year as the city’s mayor. “It gives kids and adults the chance to see the Canadiens in our community. It’s very special for everyone.”
The players are no exception. Hailing from Laurier-Station, QC, a town of just over 2,000 people named for its train station, for David Desharnais the event hit a little closer to home.
“It means a lot to me. There were trains going by every day when I was young. It could happen to anyone. It’s a really tragic accident,” he shared. “We were driving in and I thought we were going to take a look at the disaster area but the arena was right there. You see it on TV, but when you see it live it’s a different story.
“We wanted them to just enjoy a little time with us and help them think about something else and let them know we’re with them,” added the Habs centerman. “We want to support them and we wanted to let them know we’re always behind them.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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