Habs Hockeyville Heroes
Playing in an unusual rink that featured a fiberglass wall at one end, the Canadiens nonetheless overcame some odd bounces to trounce the Senators on Monday night.
TRURO, NS - An early wake-up call - literally - paid dividends for the Canadiens on Monday night.
Roused at 5:00 a.m. for an early flight into Halifax for a series of community events tied to Kraft's "Hockeyville" game, Christopher Higgins, Kyle Chipchura, and Jonathan Ferland all scored goals in the Canadiens' 7-3 rout of the Ottawa Senators.
Newfoundland native Michael Ryder, the fourth member of the team to travel into Nova Scotia bright and early, added a pair of assists playing on a dominant line with Higgins and Chipchura. Guillaume Latendresse continued his impressive training camp with a pair of goals, while linemate Andrei Kostitsyn added his first tally of the preseason.
"Hopefully we gave them everything they were expecting and then some, and delivered the event they were hoping for," said Higgins, who like his three morning travel-mates, spoke at area high schools and grade schools along with members of the Senators in the early afternoon. "I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't a bit of a long day, but the end result made it all worthwhile."
The Kraft "Hockeyville" contest was a national competition, featured earlier in the year on CBC, that sought the city or town in Canada which best exemplified a community's passion and commitment to hockey. It was Salmon River, NS, that earned the honor, yet in order to claim its prize - hosting a preseason game between two NHL clubs - it shared the honor with the neighboring city of Truro, whose 1,800-seat Colchester Legion Stadium was the closest facility that could be adapted to NHL standards.
The setting provided some unique challenges but made for a memorable event. With dressing rooms at the rink that couldn't accomodate a full pro roster, both clubs dressed in the gym of a nearby high school and then walked the equivalent of a football field through a parking lot to the arena itself, stopping to sign autographs for the masses of fans along the way. The rink itself was slightly smaller than the NHL standard and featured one end without glass, but rather an opaque, fiberglass wall. No rinkboard rail at the latter end made for some unusual bounces, as well, something that tested Montreal backstop David Aebischer early.
The team benches, meanwhile, were so tight that Aaron Downey, feeling the squeeze, set a precedent others would soon follow by hopping a divider and stretching out in the penalty box.
Ryder, in the afterglow of the team's first win of the preseason, praised the entire experience.
"It was pretty neat, actually," he said with a tired smile. "I grew up playing on small rinks, so to come in here and speak at schools and see how excited the kids were and the community was, it was a lot of fun. To then play in front of a crowd that was behind us and get the victory like that makes a great day even better."
Given the context and setting of the contest, the game was surprisingly physical. With many of their veterans - Koivu, Kovalev, Rivet, Samsonov, and Souray to name the notables - at home in Montreal, the Canadiens counted on youth and speed to get past an Ottawa squad featuring the deadly tandem of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Though Spezza put the Sens up briefly with a pair of goals that answered Kostitsyn's opening tally, Higgins' second-period goal sent the game into the third stanza knotted at 2. From there the Montreal kids turned on the afterburners and flew.
Markers from Latendresse and Ferland gave the Canadiens a 4-2 edge midway through the final frame. After Heatley's tally gave Ottawa some momentum 11:57 into the period, Higgins promptly restored his club's lead to two by driving home his second of the game 13 seconds later.
Sixteen-plus hours after his day had begun, Chipchura gave Montreal a three-goal edge at 16:08. Latendresse closed out the scoring with under two minutes to go.
After an 0-4 start to the postseason, a comfortable romp did wonders for the mood of the club.
"You don't want to go 0-5, that's for sure," said Higgins. "The win gives us a bit of breathing room, at least for a day or so."
As for the head coach, Guy Carbonneau offered a muted yet apropos reaction to what marked his first win at the helm of the club.
"I won't break out the champagne," he said with a thin smile, "but maybe the Kraft Dinner."
NOTES: Aebischer went the distance to secure the victory between the pipes for the Canadiens. G Cristobal Huet is expected to go the distance Tuesday night against Tampa Bay... G Martin Gerber started for Ottawa and went two periods. G Jeff Glass allowed the five-goal Montreal outburst in the third... The Canadiens out-shot the Senators 42-25 in all, 19-8 in the second period... Notables not in the lineup for Ottawa were D Wade Redden and RW Daniel Alfredsson... NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented representatives from Salmon River a "Hockeyville" trophy prior to the game... CBC's Don Cherry and Ron McLean conducted an on-ice "Coach's Corner" during the first intermission... In attendance at the game were Canadiens alumni Yvan Cournoyer, Rejean Houle, and Gaston Gingras, all of whom participated in a series of community events on Sunday... The Canadiens expect to announce the next round of training camp cuts on Tuesday... CBC's recap of the "Hockeyville" event will air on Sunday night, Oct. 1.
J.S. Trzcienski is a special contributor to canadiens.com.