Habs hold practice in Lac-Mégantic

LAC-MÉGANTIC, Que. — The Canadian Press

Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban gives his stick away to fans after the team's practice Thursday, October 3, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Que. The town is still recovering from July's train derailment and fire that left 50 people dead and destroyed much of the downtown core. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Montreal Canadiens held a practice in the disaster-stricken town of Lac-Mégantic, Que., in a show of support for the community.

The Habs rolled into town Thursday on a bus whose passengers included team owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin.

“Driving down the road, you take a deep breath. It’s hard. It’s hard to see it,” Mr. Molson said. “But at the same time the people are here today, and they’re happy, and it looks like the city is being rebuilt so that gives me pleasure at the same time.”

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Cheers from the 1,300 people in the arena greeted the Habs as they took the ice, with kids tapping on the glass to get the players’ attention and request autographs.

It was the latest in a string of goodwill gestures directed at the community, after benefit shows and free concert tickets from Paul McCartney.

The Habs themselves have already held a scrimmage at the Bell Centre where cash raised from the $5 tickets went to a Lac-Mégantic fund. They also invited survivors and emergency personnel to preseason games, and held a minute of silence during a pregame tribute.

“I think we probably had 150 ideas of what we could do [for Lac-Mégantic],” Mr. Molson said.

“We put together a little task force. I’m not going to give any individual credit. I think it’s a team effort and I’m proud to be here.”

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said watching the Canadiens play on Saturday nights on television was a sacred ritual in her family when she was growing up. “It’s a pleasure and an honour to have the whole team and Mr. Molson here,” she said. “I’m delighted and proud. I can’t find the words to express how happy we are.”

Goaltending coach Stéphane Waite, who is from nearby Sherbrooke, said the bus went quiet as it approached the town.

Defenceman P.K. Subban told reporters that the team felt it was important to go to Lac-Mégantic, and appreciated seeing so many happy and excited children.

Teammate David Desharnais was moved by what he saw. “You see it on TV, but when you see it with your own eyes and you realize how devastating it was,” he said. “We’re glad we came.

“I saw a lot of smiles in the stands. If we can bring a little joy to people and show them we’re behind them, we’ll be happy.”

From the excitement in the stands, it was clear the visit was a success.

“We love hockey,” Lac-Mégantic resident Gaston Breault said. “It’s a chance for us to see the Canadiens in person.

“It was good of them to do this.”

Forty-seven people were killed and a part of the town razed when a train derailed in July, smashing into the town centre and erupting in fireballs. The disaster has prompted various investigations and lawsuits, all of which are ongoing.