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Hitting the ice with their idols


It was a busy night at the Swan River Centennial Arena as approximately 675 people packed the corral to take in a hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens Alumni and the Swan Valley Selects on Saturday (Dec. 2).
The evening was put on by the Swan Valley Minor Hockey Association and the Swan Valley Stampeders Junior A Hockey Club, both looking to raise some funds to benefit their respective clubs.
While the game itself really was secondary to many there to watch the former NHL greats, the two teams did combine to entertain those in attendance nonetheless.
Led by 60-year-old Normand Dupont’s three goals, two assists performance, the Canadiens legends rolled to a 9-5 victory.
Stéphane Richer and Marc-André Bergeron each added a pair of goals while singles were added by Keith Acton and Jesse Belanger.
Aaron Porter led the Selects with a hat-trick while Ian Munro and Dave Chamberlain added singles.
The two ‘Thrill of a Lifetime’ players who suited up with the Canadiens - Blaine Campbell and Rhonda Goudy - both posted an assist in the game, to go along with a multitude of scoring chances.
Campbell, who was also one of the event’s organizers, reflected on his time with the visiting team.
“It was truly the thrill of a lifetime to take to the ice with the Canadiens,” he said. “A day later I was still smiling.
“From the minute I arrived at the arena, the Montreal Canadiens group made me feel like one of them. They were very friendly and helped ease the nervousness of meeting some of my childhood idols.
“Having a front row seat to witness their speed and passing accuracy will be something I will never forget,” he continued. “ Additionally, the time listening to many old NHL stories in the dressing room will also be something I will never forget.”
Campbell and the organizing committee are appreciative to all the volunteers who put in time to make the event such a success.
“Everything went very well and we were happy with the attendance and the excitement generated from this game,” he said. “It was awesome to see the Centennial Arena packed again.
“The community support was fabulous – from all the volunteer hours put in by the organizing committee, to all the volunteers who assisted during the event, to businesses who supported the event and all the fans who attended the game. This event was truly a community event.”
During the game’s second intermission, two-time Stanley Cup winner Richer sat down to talk about the game, the fans and the sport of hockey.
Richer has spent a number of winters touring with the alumni, a cause that is very important to him.
“It doesn’t matter the cause, each time we go somewhere it means so much for us to have the opportunity to help a small town,” he said.
“The Montreal Canadiens are like a big family. When you go back, it doesn’t matter if you played one game or 1,000 games, if you wore that jersey you are a part of the team for the rest of your life.
“These events are a great chance to come together, play together and travel,” Richer continued. “And, we get to work with some (legends) – Guy Lafleur before and now Steve Shutt and Pierre Bouchard, once in a while.
“For us, it’s amazing to travel with these guys who won so many Stanley Cups. Now, it’s my turn to be one of the older guys who gets to share his experiences with the younger guys joining the tour.”
No matter what city or town they visit, from coast to coast, Richer is always humbled by the fans that come out to support.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We can go all over and people just love it. The buildings are packed and it’s great for us to see that.
“We see all the kids wearing the Montreal jerseys with Carey Price and P.K. Subban. They did get to see us play but their fathers and grandfathers share the stories with them (about who they are watching).
“I love seeing the kids reactions in the warmup when they hear the noise of the puck when it hits the glass or after, during the VIP, when they can ask us questions,” Richer continued, adding that playing at these venues also takes the Canadiens players back to their youth.
“Walking into the building tonight, when we came through the back door it was cold and it reminded me of when I was 12 years old and 500 people in the stands felt like 5,000.”
Although the teams that the Canadiens face often give it their all, the ex-NHL players are there to have a good time and keep that in mind when they hit the ice.
“(We hold back) a lot, a lot,” laughed Richer. “I don’t think we are even sweating yet.
“But, for us it’s all about people not getting hurt. We have guys playing that are over 60 years old and we have to be aware of that.
“It’s not like that here but we’ve come across some teams that think they are in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup and they want to be the Canadiens so we back off and let them be the show. We are here to raise money.”
They also tour to help spread the love of the game of hockey.
“The game is very popular,” Richer said. “There are so many games on TV and it’s easy for kids to watch.
“So many children now just want to play video games or be on their phones. So, it doesn’t matter the sport, as long as it inspired them to go out and do something it’s good for them. It helps fight (obesity), depression and keeps them from doing things like smoking. If we can help to influence children to do sports we are doing our jobs.”
Richer was appreciative of all who came out to support the local hockey teams and take in the game.
“For most of us, it’s the first time we have been this far north in Manitoba,” he said. “I want to thank the people that came out to see us after travelling all day. It was packed, even during the warmup, and it means so much to us.”