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Montreal Canadiens intra-squad scrimmage
(habseyesontheprize.com)

From the cheap seats: Canadiens red vs. white scrimmage

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I’m a die-hard Ottawa Senators supporter, but any hockey fan would jump at the opportunity to watch a game at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens.It’s known as one of the loudest, most exciting arenas around the league. General admission to see this intra-squad pre-season game was free, but I was able to secure premium 100-level seats by donating a pair of used skates to a local community charity through a new promotion.

When I walked into the packed Bell Centre Monday evening, the lengths I went to in convincing my mom to drive from Ottawa with an old pair of skates were instantly justified. My seat was one of the best in the house, and would have cost a pretty penny in a regular-season game. Right behind the glass, on the corner facing the team benches, I could see the grooves and scratches on the surface of the ice. Due to the exobitant cost of attending NHL games, this was probably going to be the first and last time I would ever sit in a seat this close to the action.

On my right was a woman who was practically shaking with exhilaration as she spoke in enthusiastic French to the man beside her. On my other side, a young boy pressed his hands and nose against the glass hard enough to leave prints. Above me sat thousands of fervent fans in the Canadiens’ iconic blue, white, and red. 

Finally, the pre-game countdown wound down to a stop. I cheered along with everyone else as the Montreal Canadiens spilled onto the rink in red and white uniforms. With pucks littering the ice, the Red team skated down to our end of the rink and began to warm up. The woman beside me showed herself to be a fan of goaltender Carey Price as she hopped up and down in her seat, alternating between taking photos of Price and simply marvelling at his proximity to us.

As warm-ups finished up, the scrimmage rules were explained: Two 25 minute periods would be played, and all penalties called would result in a penalty shot. This last rule was obviously in place for the fans, and it paid off in a big way. After a slow and scoreless first period, defenceman P.K. Subban drew a penalty call for Team White, and the noise level rocketed through the roof as Subban stared down Price. With a perfect view of his advance, we watched Subban skate in, deke right-to-left and then flick a backhand just wide of Price. The arena exploded in cheers for both Subban and Price, and I strained to pick out the suspiciously absent boos. Turns out when the whole crowd loves both teams, everyone’s happy regardless of who scores or wins.

Scoring began in earnest in the second period as rookie goalies took over between the pipes. Winger Max Pacioretty, sporting his brand new “A” as an alternate captain, sniped a top-corner goal on Michael Condon to put Team Red on the board. A little while later, forward Alex Galchenyuk received a perfect pass from right winger Nikita Scherbak, split Team Red’s defence with an impressive move, and went top shelf on goalie Zach Fucale. With time winding down, winger Christian Thomas scored the winning goal for Team Red off a messy rebound to round out the night.

After the game, the voice coming through the loudspeakers told us to vote for the game MVP on our smartphones. I expected one of the veterans or hometown heroes to be selected, and waited to hear a familiar name. Instead, the loudspeakers called out Nikita Sherbak, the rookie whose outstanding play had captivated me all game long.

It was uplifting to see such a young player skate onto the ice by himself, lifting his stick in acknowledgement of the boisterous cheers raining down on him. It was a perfect end to a game meant to celebrate the bond that ties a hockey club and its fans, making the beautiful sport of hockey so meaningful.

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