11/08/2012 9:40 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – Fans starved for professional hockey in Montreal need to look no further than the Bell Centre on Friday night.
That night the facility, the home of the Montreal Canadiens of the locked-out National Hockey League, will host an American Hockey League game between the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, and the Syracuse Crunch. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
A large crowd is expected for the second of four meetings between the teams this season. The Crunch skated to a 3-0 win over the Bulldogs at Copps Coliseum on Wednesday night as goaltender Riku Helenius turned aside 23 shots to record his first AHL shutout since Feb. 6, 2009 when he was a member of the Norfolk Admirals.
The Bulldogs held the Crunch’s leading scorer, Cory Conacher, who is also the AHL’s reigning most valuable player and rookie of the year, pointless and the Burlington, Ont. native recorded only one shot on goal. The Crunch, two points up on Norfolk for top spot in the East Division, has five wins and one shootout loss on the road this season.
Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre is a native of Richmond, Quebec, east of Montreal, and played three seasons of junior hockey in Laval, a suburb of Montreal. Lefebvre signed with the Canadiens as an undrafted free agent in 1986 and played three seasons for the club between 1989 and 1992.
“It will be fun, I will probably end up needing plenty of tickets,” said Lefebvre. “For me it will be a game like any other, we need the points. It will be good for the young guys to go into the Bell Centre and get an idea what the atmosphere will be like. Hopefully the fans will come out to see the future of the Canadiens franchise.”
A player Canadiens fans will be keeping a close eye on is rookie right winger Brendan Gallagher, who is tied with Blake Geoffrion for the team lead in scoring with six points. Gallagher, who led the Bulldogs with six shots on goal against the Crunch, played five exhibition games with the Canadiens last season.
“It’ll be a fun experience,” said Gallagher. “The fans in Montreal are dying for hockey and I hope they pack the place. I played some exhibition games there and I know what they will expect. They will be watching and expecting us to win as much as they’d want the Canadiens to win. I hope we can put on a good show.”
A player with Quebec roots who also figures to be a big part of the Canadiens’ future is rookie centre Michael Bournival. A 20-year-old native of Shawinigan, Bournival was chosen by the Colorado Avalanche in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and had his rights acquired by the Canadiens in a trade for defenceman Ryan O’Byrne on November 11th, 2010. As captain of the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior League, Bournival led the club to its first Memorial Cup title last May.
“It will be great to have a chance to play in Montreal,” said Bournival, who played two exhibition games for the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in 2011. “Everybody in that city loves hockey and I will have a lot of family there. It will be pretty special for me to play a pro game there.”
Bournival, who also played for Canada at the World Junior Championship in at Edmonton and Calgary, said he is prepared for the media attention the Bulldogs will generate.
“It’s part of the game and we need to deal with it. There were a lot of media around in the Memorial Cup and World Juniors so I am used to that. But we need to focus on what we have to do on the ice. We never give up and that’s one of our strengths as a team.”
Bournival, who has been recently skating on a line with wingers Gallagher and Patrick Holland, has one goal and three assists for four points in nine games.
“We have good chemistry on our line and we work hard every game,” said Bournival. “We bring intensity and energy on the ice. We have a young team and that’s a good thing. There are a lot of good players in this league right now due to the lockout and it is helping us improve quickly. We had to adapt a bit at the beginning of the season, but it’s been good so far.”
Bournival earned his first professional point with an assist n his AHL debut, a 4-3 shootout win on the road over the Grand Rapids Griffins on October 13th and recorded his first pro goal in a 3-1 loss to the Rochester Americans at Buffalo, New York on October 23rd. Bournival led both teams with six shots on goal in that game.
“When you are getting chances and working hard the goals will come. Sometimes there are nights when you get chances and can’t score and that can be frustrating.”
The game at Montreal will be telecast live by TVA Sports and broadcast live on Hamilton’s Funny 820 and simulcast on Montreal’s TSN Radio 690.
The Bulldogs return to Montreal on February 22nd to face Rochester.