Vincent Deslauriers skated off the ice, looked up at the buzzing stands and beamed.
“Oh man,” he said to himself. “I feel like I’m six years old.”
He wasn’t the only one on a special night in Nelson.
Deslauriers and the Kootenay Patricks, a collection of local hockey players, hosted the Montreal Canadiens alumni Thursday night in a charity game for Nelson’s Make A Change Canada before a joyous crowd at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
But as soon as the puck dropped, it was clear this was no ordinary game of hockey.
When Derek Diener scored 30 seconds into the game for the Patricks, players from both teams gathered for an impromptu picture at centre ice while even the referee applauded.
The Habs meanwhile were in Nelson to score goals and put on a show. Oleg Petrov, at 48 years old, hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2002-03 season, but he spent the game skating around players as though they were pylons and scoring at will.
Defenceman Mathieu Dandenault took pleasure in playfully riling the crowd with his goal celebrations, and Patrice Brisebois earned some fans when he led local novice kids in a stretch and shinny at the first intermission.
There were also a number of good humoured Harlem Globetrotter-esque pranks. The best came late in the game when Dandenault faked an injury to distract the Patricks while Pierre Dagenais skated by the Kootenay bench and dumped water on the players.
Even though the Canadiens were the main attraction, there was plenty of love for the Patricks. Goaltender Chris LaValley made a series of saves in the first period that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the NHL, and each goal scored by the locals was met with a roar of approval from the crowd.
And what a crowd it was.
A busy playoff game for the Nelson Leafs might top 1,000 fans. On Thursday the NDCC was packed an hour and a half prior to puck drop. Organizers didn’t announce a final tally, but every seat was filled and fans lined the concourse to watch the show.
Allen Chatten, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, watched the game dressed in a vintage Wendel Clarke jersey. “This is amazing,” he said. “All the different jerseys, all the people celebrating a good game of hockey. You can’t complain.”
Tannis Killough, who stood out with her Saku Koivu jersey signed by Habs legend Jean Beliveau, said she grew up listening to hockey on the radio in Kettle Valley.
“Everybody was pretty much a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, because that’s pretty much what they broadcast in those days,” she said. “I just remember for some reason in Grade 10 announcing to the world in general I was now a Montreal Canadiens fan, and I’ve been one ever since.”
Len, Ray, Brad and Alan Major travelled to see Nelson’s Paul Major suit up for the Habs as one of the team’s two thrill-of-a-lifetime participants. Len flew in from Florida, Ray and Brad drove from Windsor, Ont., to see their brother, and Alan extended his holiday trip back from Australia to see his uncle play.
All four wore Habs jerseys with Major’s name on the back, but they hid a little secret — none of them were Montreal fans.
“I am a diehard Bruins fan,” admitted Brad Major, who lifted his pants to reveal Boston socks. “But there’s no way I’m going to let this shirt burn.”
The Nelson Leafs, meanwhile, had some unexpected representation at the game.
Just over an hour before the puck dropped, Leafs assistant coach Adam DiBella was asked to play for the Canadiens when a few alumni were held up in Vancouver.
DiBella hustled home to grab his gear, which he said he hadn’t put on as a player in four years. Before he knew it, DiBella was playing alongside NHL legends and even managed to finish with an assist.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was a bunch of Stanley Cup winners, and me.”
The game eventually ended, and players from both teams gathered at centre ice for handshakes and photos. One of the teams had won, but the last thing anyone leaving the rink cared about was the final score.