It was a late night like you often see in a bottom-ranking team. The final siren is heard, the players converge on their guardian and congratulate each other, comfort each other in defeat.
In the pile of red jerseys, Alex Belzile walked up to Sean Farrell and whispered a few words in his ear.
“I just said ‘good job’ to him,” Belzile said after CH’s 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. It’s hard to keep your head up when you lose like that, but I was happy for him. You see more and more flashes. The vision of the game is hard to learn, and he has it, that’s for sure. »
At first glance, everything differentiates them. Belzile, an undrafted Quebecer, made his mark on the minor home runs before scoring his first NHL goal at age 31. Farrell, a Boston-area American, comes to the big leagues at 21, a star in the college ranks, an Olympic Games appearance behind the tie, and now he’s scoring his first NHL goal-a gift from the goalkeeper, we hear-from his second game.
They have little in common, but Belzile didn’t stop there. “He’s been amazing with me,” Farrell said. I’m sitting close to him in the locker room this week, he was the one who drove me from the hotel to the arena. He’s taken really good care of me the past few days. »
You have to understand the context in which Farrell arrives in the NHL. He just spent the last two years at Harvard. This season, his line with Matt Coronato and Joe Miller has remained pretty much unchanged. As if that weren’t enough, he had even played with Coronato and Miller in Chicago, in the USHL, before reuniting with them in the red brick of Cambridge.
He comes from a winning team, and played in a playoff game last weekend. Now he has just participated in two more or less memorable duels, two defeats for CH, and he has already gone to six different line partners in six periods. If Martin St-Louis wanted to take him out of his comfort zone, he succeeded.
“Just being in the league, you’re stepping out of your comfort zone,” recalled the Canadiens head coach.
In this context, a welcoming committee is essential, and Belzile is very happy to be part of it.
“I was lucky, I played with good veterans when I was young, recalls number 60. I needed anything, a lift, I had questions … I try to do the same. It’s natural for me. It’s important to make young people confident and the faster you are, the more it shows on the ice. »
Farrell may be gracious in interviews, but Belzile describes him as a “shy” young man on road trips.
Did he point out to him that he, Belzile, waited until he was 31 to experience what Farrell experienced on Thursday night? “Not yet, but I’ll tell him for example! he replies, laughing.
We often see the leadership of a team simply through the players who wear a “C” or an “A” on their jersey. This is less the case with a mature team, like the 2021 edition of the Canadiens, which reached the final with an army of veterans, but in this edition, filled with rookies, it is normal to believe that the leaders of men are basically Nick Suzuki and his deputies.
“When you have so many new players, you try to make them feel welcome,” Suzuki recalled. We have a very good group of players here and we try to build a culture. »
Belzile and Farrell’s story reminds us, however, that these attentions can come from any player, regardless of status.
It’s also the kind of useful information when projecting the Habs from 2023-2024, a popular exercise at the end of the season. Young people with intriguing potential is one thing, but the quality of the coaching is also worth its weight in gold. We saw it with David Savard and the young defenders this season. It remains to be seen whether Belzile will have the chance to be part of this framework next fall.
The veterans sometimes find it difficult to draw their energy from the circumstances of this end of the season, but not him.
Aleksander Barkov will have given him headaches all year. Suzuki ends the four-game series against the Panthers this season with a -8 differential.
The Panthers have scored 27 goals against the Habs this season. The 5-2 win was their shortest victory of the season against Montreal, which says a lot about the pace of the other three games.
In the morning, David Savard’s status was uncertain at best for the game at the Bell Centre. The seasoned defender tried hard, to the point of taking part in the warm-up period before the match, but he ended up walking off the ice, unable to continue. It was therefore Chris Wideman who took his place in the Montreal squad. Wideman was the least often employed player by Martin St-Louis on Thursday night against the Panthers, with a modest playing time of just 9:38. “It’s a bit of bad luck,” summed up the Montreal coach on Thursday evening. There are injured players who come back, and then you lose Josh [Anderson], you lose [Kirby] Dach, and then we lose [David] Savard […] We lose big chunks. It’s the league. The league, she doesn’t care, the league continues, and it’s not easy. »
Casually, Matthew Tkachuk is having a no worse season. Thursday at the Bell Centre, he had a hat trick, in addition to adding an assist to his record, to bring his total points to 101 for the season. That makes him two straight seasons of over 100 points, having scored 104 points last season with the Calgary Flames. He thus becomes the fourth player in the history of this league to collect two consecutive seasons of 100 points with two different clubs, after Wayne Gretzky, Jimmy Carson and Mike Rogers. “To be honest, that’s not a stat that means much to me, unless we can make the playoffs,” the forward replied after the game. I think any player in this league would have that same reaction. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to think about all this later, at another time…”
With his parents in place for the game, Panthers goaltender Alex Lyon felt like looking good. But his game started with a very bad goal awarded to Sean Farrell, the kind of shot that a goalkeeper likes to have the opportunity to see again. But Lyon eventually recovered. “Sometimes it’s the keeper who allows the club to recover, but this time it was the guys who gave me a chance to recover,” explained the goalkeeper. I conceded a very bad goal when I left, but we can get out of here with the victory… and besides, my parents were there! »