Canadiens players raise their sticks to thank fans at the end of a public practice at the Bell Centre on Sunday.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
MONTREAL — Subjectively judged sports are suspect at the best of times. But there was something particularly pungent about the scorecards of Douglas Murray and George Parros Sunday morning at the Bell Centre, being flashed almost before the completion of the event the two Canadiens were judging.
“It knew it was coming,” Parros joked later about the “1” scorecards both he and Murray had simultaneously held up to grade the shootout style of former Habs defenceman Patrice Brisebois.
“It was going to be a terrible attempt and it was,” he sniffed of Breezer’s attempt, which was worth at least a 7 on any reasonable scorecard.
Parros’s grin then spread beneath the thick lawn on his upper lip.
“(Brisebois) is the best guy to do that to. He’s a lighthearted guy, we were just having a little fun,” he said.
The ex-Habs’ shootout try came in a celebrity portion of the Canadiens’ annual Provigo Fan Practice, a spectator-tailored 100-minute session that drew maybe 17,000 to the Bell Centre.
The open-door practice goes back more than two decades, when it was sponsored at the Forum by a snack-food maker.
Sunday’s event featured a Novice A game between the St-Laurent Sonics and LaSalle Jaguars (won 2-0 by LaSalle); a novelty contest between teams captained by Canadiens’ Daniel Brière and Michaël Bournival, featuring giant pucks and cardboard cut-out players being pushed by contestants; a celebrity challenge for speed, shooting accuracy and shootout style; and plenty of mascot Youppi!
The morning ended with a 45-minute Canadiens “practice,” in effect the same rush drills done on a game-day morning skate if “a little bit slower than usual,” Parros would say, and a brief shootout display dominated by P.K. Subban (maybe it’s finally time to use him in the shootout?).
Sadly dropped from a few seasons ago, also missing in the most recent edition last March, were the Habs’ skill contests, including races to determine the club’s fastest skater, another competition to determine the most accurate shooter, and a hardest-shot contest.
The Canadiens would do well to bring back those fun contests; thousands of very young fans (and their parents) coming to the Bell Centre Sunday for an 8:30 a.m. door-opening might enjoy something more than a brisk half-hour Habs skate following a leisurely 10-minute warm-up.
My highlight from the fans practices I’ve attended came in 2009, when then-Habs centreman Glen Metropolit obliterated with four pucks the Styrofoam targets anchored in the net corners, rifled from the deep slot not with the usual carefully aimed wrist shots but rather on full-windup slappers, the last one ripped as a one-timer on a pass from the corner.
“One of the greatest things I’ve seen in hockey!! #4for4” defenceman Josh Gorges tweeted Sunday afternoon in reply to my Twitter reminiscence about Metro’s jaw-dropping feat.
All Canadiens were present and accounted for Sunday except forward Ryan White, who left last Thursday’s game in Dallas early with an upper-body injury and missed Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa.
Parros, who has sat out the last nine games with his second concussion of the season, left his shootout scorecard behind to practice with his teammates. He has yet to be cleared for contact, not that there was even an accidental rub Sunday, but he expects that’s coming soon.
Parros was skating with the Canadiens during their recent road trip but left the squad in Dallas to make a scheduled visit to a concussion specialist at the University of Michigan. All went well there, he said.
“These are all group decisions,” he said, addressing who made the call for the visit. “There are open lines of communication around here. We’re all trying to do what’s best for me, so (decisions) are made as a group.
“Seeing the doctor was just another step in making sure I come back and I’m ready to go,” Parros added. “It was a good trip. We’re going to continue that process. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer.
“They put me through the paces (in Michigan) that I’ve gone through before. It was just another set of eyes on me. Everything seemed pretty positive coming out of there.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good, actually. There are rumours out there that I’ve been oversymptomatic (but) I’ve felt pretty good. I’m going through all the steps that we feel are necessary to make sure we’re making the right decision.”
Parros was joking — now — about his travel miseries getting home from Michigan, brightly describing “all sorts of fun stuff, maybe headache-inducing!”
“I had a cancelled flight, had to switch airplanes, my equipment got lost and there were a bunch of delays the next day. It’s nothing that other (travellers) haven’t gone through before.
“I had to carry my hockey bag around. It was really heavy,” he said, chuckling, saying he’s earned new respect for the team equipment staff who haul gear around the continent.
Across the dressing room, Douglas Murray was considering his two-assist role in Saturday’s comeback that fell short. They were the big rearguard’s first two points as a Canadien, coming in his 23rd game.
Of particular note was a grinding, blue-collar bit of terrific third-period trench-work behind the Senators net, battling long and hard for the puck in a play that ultimately led to Daniel Brière’s second goal of the night.
“I try to do that all the time,” Murray said. “It just worked out a little bit better there. I’m obviously, No. 1, responsible for the defensive side, the type of player I am. I don’t like to take chances, but that was a time to get the puck in and hold onto it as long as possible.
“I wouldn’t call behind the (offensive) net my office,” he added with a laugh, not ready to compare himself back there to Wayne Gretzky just yet. “I’d like to call it my office, but I wouldn’t. And don’t think the coaches would want it to be my office, either.”
The huge crowd for a Sunday practice surprised Murray, and it didn’t.
“You kind of expect the unexpected here,” he said. “But still, it’s impressive. … It’s kind of crazy to see that, when we have more fans here for a practice than some arenas get on game day.”
Parros, meanwhile recalled open practices in Anaheim that were raucous for a different reason.
“We had a lot of screaming kids there, but it was sort of a school trip for them,” he said. “I’m not sure if they knew what they were cheering for, or just happy to be out of school.”
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette