This was pretty close to a perfect Saturday night at the Bell Centre for the Canadiens and their fans.
The team ended a season-opening five-game losing streak with an impressive 6-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings and it was a night full of feel-good stories.
It started during the pre-game warmup when Jonathan Drouin skated over to some young fans standing behind the glass and tossed his stick over as a souvenir for one of them. One of the fans was holding a sign that read: “Drouin mon héros et mon modèle”.
Drouin, who left the Canadiens near the end of last season and missed all of the playoff run to the Stanley Cup final while dealing with anxiety and insomnia issues, picked up two assists in the game. The Sainte-Agathe native now has 2-3-5 totals in six games to lead the Canadiens in scoring.
But it was another home boy who stole the show on this night.
Mathieu Perreault, born and raised in Drummondville, had a hat-trick, completing it with an empty-netter at 13:16 of the third period. Hats were thrown on the ice to celebrate the first French-Canadian to record a hat-trick for the Canadiens at the Bell Centre since Vincent Damphousse in an 8-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 28, 1998.
“Pe-rreault! Pe-rreault!” the 19,706 fans in attendance chanted.
“When they chanted my name I had chills on my back,” Perreault said after the game. “It was one of the most special moments that you just remember for the rest of your life.”
Perreault’s wife, Jennilie, was among those in the stands cheering. Their three children — 5-year-old Violette and 4-year-old twins Hector and Pénélope — were at home, but what a memorable night for this family.
“The last time (the Canadiens) won the Cup I was too young to remember,” the 33-year-old Perreault said in July after signing a one-year, US$950,000 contract with the team as a free agent. “But growing up Saku Koivu was definitely my favourite Canadiens player. I just loved the way he played. He was a smaller centreman, just like I was growing up, so I kind of moulded my game around what he was doing. I always loved him.”
As a junior, Perreault was named the most valuable player in the QMJHL for the 2006-07 season after posting 41-78-119 totals in 67 games with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. But it’s his work ethic that has kept him in the NHL for 13 seasons.
“You come to a new team you got to prove what you can do and earn your spot in the lineup,” Perreault said after signing with the Canadiens. “I’ve built a career on that. I came into the league that way. I’ve always played every game like there’s a chance I’m not in the lineup next game, so I have to perform that night and I’m coming to Montreal with the same idea. If you play your best game you have a chance to stay in the lineup, if you don’t you might come out. This is how I see it and we’ll go from there.”
But Perreault never dreamed of a night like this.
“You just dream about being in the NHL and maybe having a chance to play for the Canadiens,” he said after Saturday’s game. “Not to actually score a hat-trick in your own building.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and I’m just trying to take it in as much as I can.”
The fans were into this game right from the start, with the first “Go Habs Go!” chant starting in the opening minute. After the Canadiens took a 3-1 lead early in the second period, the “Olé! Olé!” chant started. Heck, the fans even started doing the wave after the Canadiens took a 5-1 lead in the third period shortly before Perreault completed a natural hat-trick with his third straight goal.
The fans were singing “Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” as the clock ticked down on this one.
After so many games at an empty Bell Centre during the last regular season because of COVID-19 and an almost-empty building during the playoff run, it was wonderful to see and hear the building come back to life after a terrible 0-5-0 start to the season by the Canadiens.
“I think playing here we know how much energy we can get from the fans,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “But also when things don’t go that well you can feel also the pressure.”
For players like Perreault who are new to the Canadiens this season and even for those who first joined the team last season, this was their first experience playing in a real party atmosphere at the Bell Centre.
“I imagine they were trying to figure out what would it have been in the playoffs to have that building filled and have that energy,” Ducharme said. “They were looking forward to that and having that kind of night at least showed them what kind of fans that we have and how much passion they have for the team.”
Life is good at the Bell Centre when the Canadiens win — especially when un gars de chez nous gets un tour du chapeau .
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