Montreal Canadiens alumni, CNL firefighters face off in Pembroke to raise funds for Ottawa Valley Thunder girls hockey programs
Tina Peplinskie/Daily Observer Taking part in the official faceoff for last week's Montreal Canadiens alumni game at the PMC (from left) are Mila Jones, Midget Thunder; Ruby Pilatzke, Petawawa Thunder; Kevin Daniels, CNL vice-president of Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality and coach of the CNL firefighters; Chris Nilan, Canadiens alumni; Garrison Petawawa Deputy Commander Lt.-Col. Rich Raymond dropping the puck; Kaitlyn Gage, Bantam Thunder; Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay; CNL Fire Chief Gary McRae; Ava Zadow, Peewee Thunder; Chelsea Pleau, First Shift program and Stan Keon, former Thunder coach who recently retired after a 40-year coaching career.
When you ask a Montreal Canadiens fan how long they've been cheering for the bleu, blanc et rouge, the answer is usually the same – forever.
Many of these diehard fans were understandably thrilled last week when they had a chance to not only watch some of the Canadien greats strap on the blades and hit the ice at the Pembroke Memorial Centre, but also attend a pre-game meet and greet where they got to chat with the former players and get some of their most prized possessions autographed.
The Canadiens's alumni game served as a fundraiser for Ottawa Valley Thunder girls hockey and the former Montreal players – goalie Richard Sévigny, Oleg Petrov, Keith Acton, Normand Dupont, Gilbert Delorme, Chris Nilan, Sergio Momesso, Brian Skrudland, Stéphane Richer, Marc André Bergeron, Patrice Brisebois led by coach Yvon Lambert – faced off against the firefighters from Chalk River's Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. The opponents and their families also had a chance to attend the meet and greet.
Among those die-hard fans was Bernie Pleau, who admits he started cheering for Montreal when he was just seven years old, mainly because his oldest brother was a fan.
“I started cheering for them then and I never quit,” he said with a chuckle before the game.
A family member nearby said he watches every game on TV or listens on the radio if they aren't being broadcast.
He estimates he's attended about 20 games at the old Montreal Forum over the years. The highlight though was on June 9,1993 when he saw the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in game five against the LA Kings featuring Wayne Gretzky. After losing the first game of the series, Montreal won the next three in overtime to return to the Forum with a commanding series lead. Bernie was so sure his Canadiens would pull it out, he headed to Montreal with a co-worker for the game and purchased tickets from a scalper (in fact he still has the scalper's business card in his wallet to this day). His hunch was right and that night he got a chance to see his team hoist hockey's holy grail. It's a memory he will never forget, so he was excited to see some of the former players right here in Pembroke. He even had a chance to try on the Stanley Cup ring of Brian Skrudland, one of the first players to arrive in Bogie's Bar for the meet and greet.
Bernie's wife Lorna has also been a fan Canadiens' fan for as long as she can remember too also thanks to her brother who introduced her to the team.
“When we got married it's a good thing because because we have a Montreal room in our house,” she said, proudly decked out in her Canadiens's scarf and sweatshirt. While she has attended games in Montreal also over the years, she was happy to see some of her favourites here in Pembroke.
She was lucky enough to meet the very personable Skrudland who played 15 NHL seasons, winning two Stanley Cups in Montreal and in Dallas. This marks the second time he has gone on the road with the Montreal alumni and he sees it as a way of giving back to communities across the country.
“I am lucky enough to have played for the greatest team of all time and the greatest organization,” he said while taking a break from signing autographs. “A lot of teams don't have such an active alumni so I am honoured to be part of this. The people really make this event.”
He said he hadn't played hockey since his last tour, although he does stay in shape off the ice.
“It's easy to get back into hockey shape when you have a chance to strap on the skates again for the Canadiens,” Skrudland said.
While watching the game was exciting enough, since the players have still got it, from their smooth skating to skillful passing, being in the dressing room with the former NHL greats took things to another level. That is exactly where Lt.-Col. Rich Raymond, deputy commander of Garrison Petawawa, found himself as he was one of two 'thrill of a lifetime' players who had the opportunity to suit up with the Canadiens's alumni for the game.
As a youngster, his father and grandfather both cheered for the Habs and he remembers attending a game with his grandfather at the Forum. He's played hockey himself since he was young. He previously had a chance to play against the Canadiens's alumni in an Armed Forces game in Toronto and he thought sharing the ice with the greats as an opponent was as good as it would get, but he was wrong.
“The best part is that I am getting a (Canadiens) jersey with my name on it; it's like winning the lottery,” Lt.-Col. Raymond said before the game.
On the ice he didn't look out of place as he was able to keep up with his teammates and he even managed to score a goal and pick up an assist.
Aside from the experience of playing itself, he was also please to be part of this opportunity to raise money for girls hockey, which continues to grow. Both of his daughters play high school hockey and ringette and his son also plays hockey.
Terry Eggert too has been a Canadiens's fan forever, so he came prepared to the meet and greet. He was able to get his own jersey signed, as well as the Chris Nilan jersey he got for his daughter when she was just five years old (she's in her 40s now). Although he has already been a fan for some time, Eggert really got hooked on the Habs when he was about 17 years old after attending at game at the Forum. When he talks about the experience, it sounds like it was only yesterday.
“I just love the atmosphere,” he said. “The food was great, the people were great. I went back to the Forum about six times over the years at the atmosphere was always super.”
Despite the final score of the game, playing against the Canadiens's greats is something the firefighters will always remember. The final score was 12-3 as Richer led the way for the alumni with five goals, Nilan scored four, Skrudland, Dupont and Lt.-Col. Raymond scored one also. Scoring for CNL were Ryan Preston, Gary Pardy and guest player Megan Evans.
The big winner of the night, however, was the Ottawa Valley Thunder girls hockey. About 1,100 people attended the game and an estimated $3,500 was raised although the final total is still being calculated. The funds raised will go towards keeping fees down, subsidizing low income families, adding programs such as Perfect Skating, hockey schools, First Shift and $99 first-year registration.