From the opening introductions to their play on the ice and sharing photos with Trail players and families after the game, the Montreal Canadiens alumni showed why skill, class, and a commitment to entertaining fans and helping communities has made the franchise one of the most popular and successful in all of sport.
The Trail Hockey Club Society (THCS) brought the Canadiens alumni to the Silver City to face the Trail Old Timers on Friday at the Cominco Arena and raise money for the THCS Scholarship Fund.
Le Tricolore were led by coach and former NHL All Star forward Steve Shutt, whose five Stanley Cup rings in the 70s made the Ontario native a living legend in the world of hockey. The visit to Trail and the Cominco Arena was Shutt’s second, the first was with the NHL All Stars as a player.
“I was here 15 years ago,” said Shutt. “I was playing in it and now I’m just coaching. I don’t have to haul my bag around anymore so it’s a little bit easier, and we have some of the younger guys who just retired.”
Players from multiple eras represent Les Habitants. Sixty-year-old goalie and Vezina Trophy winner Richard Sevigny, to recent retirees John Scott, Glen Metropolit, and the jovial Marc Andre Bergeron, in addition to the dynamic Patrice Brisebois, 80s enforcer Chris Nilan, and the powerful Stephane Richer, who showed the form that made him a 50-goal scorer and two-time Stanley Cup champion in the 80s and 90s.
“Sometimes it takes a while to get the guys all synched together,” said Shutt. “We have probably about three different generations and sometimes it just takes a little while for everything to start clicking, but then usually once it gets going, it’s pretty good.”
Trail Sr. Smoke Eater Doug Jones coached the Trail team led by captain Shawn Brandt, and comprised mostly of Trail Commercial Hockey League players that included former Junior Smoke Eaters and college players like Rob Wasylkiw, Craig Clare, Terry Thomas, Jason Zilkie and Jeremy Robinson, while former Kootenay Ice forward Pat Iannone played professionally in Italy for a decade.
For Shutt and the alumni contingent, the opportunity to represent the Canadiens, to give back to the communities and restore an element of joy to the game that may have waned over years of intense NHL hockey, is one they all embrace.
“I think a lot of the guys, why they play is because once you finish the end of your career – it’s tough. As you get older, you’re not playing as much, your traded a little bit more so it becomes really more of a struggle, and I think at times you lose a little passion for the game. Then when you come out with the Old Timers, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is how it use to be as a kid, and this is all fun.’ And you really see it with the guys, once you get them out there, they realize how much fun it is.”
The Canadiens displayed deft puck movement from the opening face off as they played keep-away from the Trail Old Timers for much of the first period.
Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman and Teck’s Raw Materials Manager Rick Miller were two special additions to the Canadiens, and both Greater Trail players helped the Habs out on the score sheet.
Not that scoring was a significant goal on the night, but Montreal jumped out to an early lead that would have been more if not for several stellar saves by former Beaver Valley Nitehawks goalie Eric Volpatti.
Following an Ashman goal that likely made Shutt proud, the Trail Old Timers got on the board, when Trail Smoke Eaters head of hockey ops, Craig Clare, beat Sevigny.
The Canadiens players congratulated Clare with great fanfare and escorted him to centre ice to pose for a photo; but just as the photographer got into position, the Habs peeled away and “Knuckles” Nilan planted a pie plate filled with whipped cream on Clare’s face.
The intermission was another highlight for the crowd of about 1,500, when the Canadiens took on a Greater Trail minor hockey team, and depleted their offensive skill by corralling them near the bench then lifting them into the box.
In the end, the Montreal alumni won 7-3, but for once the score didn’t matter. For the Canadiens and every one of the players on the Trail Old Timers, the game was all about having fun and raising money for a good cause, something the Montreal Canadiens have been doing for half-a-century.
“This team’s been doing it for 50 years, all the way back to Rocket Richard,” said Shutt. “So we’ve gone around and raised money for I don’t know how many hundreds, thousands of towns, so that’s always good. It’s always good to go into these smaller towns and meet the fans.”
Shutt played 12 seasons for the Canadiens before ending an illustrious career with the L.A. Kings. But he remains committed to the Montreal franchise and bringing a little nostalgia, memories, and fun to communities like Trail.
“One of the things I always tell people, is when you’re playing in the NHL and things are going warp speed, you don’t realize that A: some of the biggest fans live in the smallest towns, and B: you don’t realize how much of a difference you make in people’s lives. You don’t realize how much you’re impacting people’s lives, and it’s very gratifying actually.”
Congratulations to the Trail Hockey Club Society for making it possible.