Former Habs president Pierre Boivin, right, head of the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation, and former Habs defenceman Patrice Brisebois play some ball hockey in the hall where the NHL was founded on Nov. 22, 1917. The pair are promoting a street hockey tournament to benefit underprivileged children in Montreal next month.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, The Gazette
MONTREAL — It’s unclear exactly when Patrice Brisebois’s boyhood career as a street-hockey goaltender came to an end. But the former Canadiens defenceman vividly recalls the circumstances.
“I always was in nets because I was younger than my brothers, and one time I took a shot in the forehead and then another one (just below the belt),” Brisebois remembers with a laugh.
“And that was it for my goalie days. From that day, I played up front. And I was Guy Lafleur. Always.”
Brisebois, a 1993 Canadiens Stanley Cup winner who is back in the Habs family as the club’s player development coach, is honourary chairman for the second annual Hockey de Rue — Together for the Kids street-hockey tournament, organized by the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation and YM-YWHA for the benefit of underprivileged youngsters.
The separate adult and youth tournaments, three age-groups in the latter, will be played over the May 19-20 holiday weekend on five outdoor rinks built on Westbury Ave. in Côte-des-Neiges in front of the YM-YWHA, with two more set up inside.
Through sponsorships and the fundraising entry-fee efforts of participating teams, the inaugural tournament raised more than $305,000. The goal this year is $450,000.
Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban agreed this week to be a spokesperson for the event and give it his enthusiastic support.
“It’s a really fun event, one that raises money and sends out the message to kids that it’s important to live healthy lifestyles, to be physically active and to watch what you eat,” said Pierre Boivin, the former president of the Canadiens who still sits on the club’s board and chairs the Canadiens Children’s Foundation.
“It’s something that, as a society, we need to preach all the time, especially in underprivileged neighbourhoods.”
In 2005-06, the Canadiens Children’s Foundation refocused its efforts toward sharing the message of a healthy lifestyle with youngsters. An extension of that has been its creation of five state-of-the-art outdoor rinks in underprivileged parts of the city.
The Hockey de Rue tournament came to be on the suggestion to the foundation a few years ago of Montreal businessman Steve Stotland, whose rich hockey pedigree includes a nearly victorious bid in 2000 to buy the Canadiens.
“Steve had played in a tournament in Toronto and told me how it had included so many teams, was so much fun and raised a ton of money,” Boivin said. “No one was doing anything like this in Montreal, a city of hockey where every kid plays the game on the street.”
The natural connection between the foundation and YM-YWHA’s efforts for youth — the latter is focused on the N.D.G.–Côte-des-Neiges district — created the tourney, chaired by Stotland, which was played for the first time last year in glorious weather that organizers would love to have again next month.
“The weekend is a carnival,” Boivin said of the event that features music, Canadiens mascot Youppi! and the participation of Habs alumni.
Organizers hope to attract 40 adult teams and 20 youth squads.
Last year, Brisebois sponsored a team from St. Michel. Next month, Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon will back a team from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where he does much community work.
Championship adult and youth teams will win a night in a Bell Centre loge for a Canadiens game, provided by Joel Leonoff of Optimal Payments; Subban recently greeted the inaugural Hockey de Rue tournament winners after their loge night.
As well, there will be a contest rewarding teams that raise the most money through sponsorships and donations beyond their entry fees.
There’s an increasing entry by groups of both adult and youth teams, making the tournament almost a family weekend.
Street-hockey is a galvanizing force in this country, almost part of the national fabric. Who doesn’t have both joyful and painful memories of their road-hockey games that ran from morning until after dark, lunch and dinner serving as intermissions?
“For Christmas, you’d always ask for goalie equipment,” said Brisebois, who in nets caught with his right hand — the “wrong” one — because that was the baseball glove a brother offered him.
Brisebois also remembers using the nylon Cooper Superblade that you’d jam onto the bottom of a stick shaft and, over the burner of a stove, bend a wicked curve into it.
“Wooden sticks were too expensive to use on the road,” he said.
On asphalt, the Superblade eventually would wear down into a toothpick, making it a weapon that produced vicious lifters that chased many a terrified goalie out of his net, almost decapitated.
“For nets, we’d use garbage cans and chunks for ice,” Boivin said. “And nets — they were white plastic tubes you’d glue together. But you had to web the mesh on the frame first, and how many people glued the posts together first?”
Boivin, now president and CEO of the Montreal-based equity firm Claridge Inc., recalled joyful boyhood days honing his slapshot on the streets near home as he emulated a hero, Canadiens legend Bernie (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion.
“We say Quebec drivers can be a little bit reckless, but if there’s one thing that all drivers respect, it’s when they see a street-hockey game,” Boivin said. “They stop, like they’re behind a school bus. It’s automatic. The kids pick up the net, move it to the sidewalk and wave as the driver slowly goes by.”
There will be no cars on Westbury Ave. on tournament weekend next month. Specially constructed “rinks” with excellent exposure for sponsors will allow adults and kids to play while raising a princely sum for a great cause without getting frostbite or being whacked in the shins by that rotten puck-hard orange ball whose welts you’d wear for months.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette