MONTREAL – The Canadiens opened the doors for a rare Sunday practice at the Bell Centre.
With a chance to see the Habs practice in person, thousands of families lined up as early as 5:00 a.m. on Sunday to score the best seats in the house for the annual Provigo Canadiens Fan Practice. The day kicked off with a match-up between two Novice A rivals in the LaSalle Jaguars and the Ville Saint-Laurent Sonics, followed by a skills competition featuring notable Quebec celebrities including Marc-Andre Grondin, Patrice Belanger, Olivier Dion, Dumas, Patrice Brisebois and four members of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars, Cathy Chartrand, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Fannie Roberge and Dominique Thibault.
Taking part his first open practice as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, Douglas Murray was impressed – although not all that surprised – by the turnout the team got for a Sunday morning skate.
“I played against them enough times to kind of know what to expect [from the fans]. It was great. It’s kind of crazy to see that, when we have more fans here for a practice than some arenas get on game day,” joked the 2013 free agent signing, who spent the first seven-and-a-half years of his career in San Jose before joining the Penguins at the trade deadline last year. “It was a lot of fun. I especially liked the music and cheering during practice.”
Joining Murray as a guest judge during the celebrity shootout portion of the event, George Parros also enjoyed his first appearance in front of a raucous Bell Centre crowd for a practice. Fresh off his flight home from a visit to a concussion specialist in Michigan last week, the gritty forward skated with his teammates as usual, but has not yet been given the green light.
“I’ve done some light contact and that’s the next step along the way,” explained Parros, who previously missed 12 games earlier this season with a concussion. “I’m taking it day-by-day and we’re getting towards the end but I don’t have any particular day in mind. We’re going through all the steps we feel are necessary to make sure I can come back and be ready to go.”
Rookie forward Michael Bournival was one of the first Habs to hit the ice on Sunday morning alongside Daniel Briere to help out with the “Provigo Classic”, pitting two teams of enthusiastic fans against each other in a life-sized table hockey-type competition. Despite the early call time following Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Senators, the 21-year-old Shawinigan native was happy to help some fellow lifelong Habs fans make the most of their memorable debuts on Bell Centre ice.
“It was really fun for us and it’s fun for the fans, too,” shared Bournival, whose team lost to Briere’s squad in the intermission event on Sunday. “It’s definitely different from a regular practice. Everyone was smiling. After last night’s loss, something like this is definitely good for morale. During games, we’re pretty focused so it’s fun that we can come here and smile and take photos with some fans on the ice. It was great.”
The Habs will be back to business as usual on Monday morning with a similar skate in Brossard – with a few less fans in attendance – preparing for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop against the Panthers at night.