MONTREAL - There is no way to imagine the hell on Earth endured the past two months by residents of Lac-Mégantic.
The Quebec community was and, in many ways, remains devastated by the July 6 derailment of a runaway train and subsequent inferno of spilled light crude oil that claimed 47 lives.
But on Saturday, and in another half-dozen events through Oct. 3, the Canadiens will try to pierce a little sunshine through the town’s dark clouds.
As of Wednesday afternoon, about 15,000 tickets had been sold for the Habs’ Red vs. White scrimmage Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
The club hopes to sell another 6,200 seats to fill the arena to its capacity, every cent of each $5 ticket earmarked for the Fonds Avenir Lac-Mégantic that will help rebuild the town.
Every fan attending the 1 p.m. scrimmage — three periods of 15 minutes each — will receive a meal of a free hot dog, bag of chips and soft drink as part of their admission.
The Canadiens will then play host to an estimated 100 Lac-Mégantic residents for each of the team’s five preseason exhibition games at the Bell Centre. Project partner Le Groupe Transbus will provide return coach transportation for these fans, who will enjoy the action from private loges around the arena.
And on Oct. 3, two days after the Canadiens open their 2013-14 season, the club will bus to Lac-Mégantic to stage a practice in the town’s 1,200-seat sports centre.
“As we do with sick kids who come to a Canadiens game for dream nights that we create, we want to give Lac-Mégantic residents a few hours to have a good time and not think about their heartaches,” said Geneviève Paquette, the team’s director of community relations.
The first special night will be Sunday, the Canadiens opening their preseason schedule against Buffalo.
A pregame moment of silence will be observed for those lost in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, after which town mayor Colette Roy-Laroche will be joined at centre ice for a ceremonial faceoff by a resident representing the townspeople and by an emergency first responder, representing those who raced to help.
A singer from Lac-Mégantic will perform the national anthems.
“As I say with the sick kids we host, ‘If we were doctors, maybe we could cure the child. But we’re not, so how can we help to make a little difference?’ ” Paquette said. “We know our team is loved. People like being around us, so we said, ‘Let’s find a way to make this work for Lac-Mégantic.’ ”
It was Canadiens president Geoff Molson who got this puck in motion, working with concert promotion arm Evenko to stage a benefit show at the Bell Centre last month, before the Habs got into gear.
The Canadiens looked at three areas they could help: fundraising, “feel-good” events such as the preseason games, and heading out to Lac-Mégantic en masse.
“Then it was just a matter of figuring out with schedules and facilities how to organize it,” Paquette said. “But we’re resourceful and we finds ways to make things happen.
“It’s just a small token, with all the companies and people in Quebec and beyond who have helped. We’re just doing our part and hoping this will bring something good to people who so badly need it.”
Molson, general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien saw the value of hitting the road for the benefit of the community.
“We’ve heard the community saying, ‘Don’t forget about us, we have a great region, come and see us,’ ” Paquette said. “We thought this is what we needed to do and Geoff, Marc and Michel said, ‘It’s easy. Let’s do it.’ ”
It’s safe to assume the entire town will come to a standstill when the Canadiens roll in, mascot Youppi! and hockey management along for the event.
“There’s a buzz about us going there,” said Paquette, who is working almost daily with the town on logistics.
She knows it’s a school and workday — as if that matters.
“Schools are calling the town, asking, ‘Can we go? We’ll take an hour or two off,’ ” she said, laughing.
“And that’s OK. We want this to be a happy day for everyone.”
Tickets, $5 each, remain on sale for Saturday’s 1 p.m. Canadiens Bell Centre scrimmage. Visit canadiens.com to buy online, or call (514) 790-2525 or (855) 310-2525. Tickets will be available at the Bell Centre the day of the scrimmage, if any remain.
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