‘It’s unbelievable’: Quebec bantam hockey players live out dream at Bell Centre
Two teams of teenage hockey players got the thrill of a lifetime on Friday. They got to show off their skills at the Bell Centre and get coached by former NHL players.
“It’s awesome,” said 13-year-old Jeremy Gagné, who plays with the Appalaches from Thetford Mines.
His team and the Artilleurs of the Eastern Townships all won a contest, and the grand prize was to practice and play at the Bell Centre.
“It’s really cool,” said Felix-Olivier Roy of the Artilleurs.
“We’ve been waiting for this for weeks.”
Former pros Gaston Gingras and Eric Houde joined the teens on the ice to give them some tips.
“It’s funny because when they first jumped on the ice I saw some kids going ‘Oh, wow,'” Gingras said. “I told them imagine was it packed and there are cameras and noise? But at least they get a taste of it and that’s what its all about.”
The kids’ coaches were in awe too.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Artilleurs coach Vincent Roy. “We feel like stars and it’s a beautiful experience.”
To win the Under Armour contest, teams had to submit videos of themselves completing challenges, giving back to the community, and much more.
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“We had over 400 teams that registered and today is the final result,” said Montreal Canadiens manager of youth hockey development Stéphane Verret.
“The two teams are living the full experience of being here at the Bell Centre.”
The teens went from small-town arenas to following the footsteps of hockey royalty.
“The arena is really big and we know good players play here,” said Jeremy Gagné, who added Brendan Gallagher is his favourite player.
Their pro coaches didn’t let the experience get to their heads. Gingras reminded all the players that the odds of making it big are very slim, so a backup plan is key.
“My son played NCAA Division 1 Hockey, he won a championship, and now he’s going into his second year of medicine,” Gingras said.
The whole experience culminated in a game between the two teams on Bell Centre ice where the organizers pull out all the stops to create a real NHL atmosphere.
“The national anthems play, there are player introductions, warmups, then full animation, referees,” explained Verret.
“It’s just like an NHL game.”