Phoenix and Tigres draw large ovation in Mégantic Saturday

Most junior hockey preseason games are quickly forgotten, and rightly so. However, Saturday night’s contest between the Sherbrooke Phoenix and the Victoriaville Tigres in Lac-Mégantic will stick longer in the memory, both for the club and the 1,149 fans assembled at the Centre Sportif Mégantic.“People are having fun, and that’s what we wanted,” said Louis Longchamps of Impact Media, who was the local organizer of the game. “The Centre is a place that was meant to be fun. That’s what the mayor said when we opened [it] two years ago. I think she’s happy tonight because that’s what we’re doing.”The game itself, a pedestrian affair won 3-1 by Victoriaville, mattered less than the fact that it was taking place at all, the first major sporting event in Lac-Mégantic since the train derailment seven weeks ago that decimated the town centre and killed 47.“Hockey here is in our blood,” said Longchamps. “Every Friday night there is a Senior hockey game or a Junior hockey game here. So when you look at this, it’s a way of going back to normal.”“The people of Megantic are strong. They’re amazing,” said Denis Bourque, the Phoenix President. “They need to know that we’re there [for them], that the people of Quebec are close to them.”Indeed, the game’s highlight came prior to the opening faceoff, as Bourque, who is the franchisee for Tim Hortons locations in Sherbrooke and Lac-Mégantic, surprised the crowd by announcing a donation of $104,355.63 for the Canadian Red Cross (Quebec Section) by the restaurant chain.“That money came together in about eight hours,” said Bourque, who explained that the total included $50,000 from Tim Hortons’ corporate headquarters, and the remaining $54,355 from franchisees throughout Quebec. “It was a big surprise [to the crowd], and a good one,” said Bourque. “I’m very grateful to my colleagues because it’s a lot of money.”This donation came in addition to a $5,000 donation to the Maison de fin de vie du Granit, a local non-profit organization that provides free care to terminally ill patients and their families and was originally intended to be the game’s beneficiary.“There was no doubt in my mind that we had to be here for the Maison de fin de vie but also for the Croix Rouge and Mégantic,” stated Bourque.Bourque was quick to pay tribute to his staff at the Tim Hortons in Lac-Mégantic. “The girls who work for me here, they still work with smiles. Even the week when the tragedy happened, they still worked with courage,” he stated.The Phoenix’s visit to Lac-Mégantic was actually in the planning stages for almost as long as the Phoenix themselves, as the town was eager to show off its sparkling two-year-old arena complex.“I talked to [Phoenix Vice-President] Jocelyn Thibault two years ago about a game,” said Longchamps. “In mid-December he called me up and said, ‘We have a game for you.’” After it became clear that the arena was undamaged, plans for the game quickly resumed.“The following week, I talked with the mayor about what would happen. She said that the complex was all right, and it was just a question of time before we would get back into it. I called [the Phoenix] back and everything was on and we did our thing and we have our result tonight.”On the ice, the highlight for the Phoenix was a solid performance by 17-year-old rookie goaltender Gabriel Parent, who played his first complete game, making 28 saves.“[Parent] was really good. He made some good saves in the second period,” said Judes Vallée, the Phoenix head coach.Beyond that, the combination of undisciplined play and the annual preseason crackdown on interference and stick fouls resulted in a game with little flow. The teams combined for 54 minutes in penalties and 16 power plays, with each side going 1-for-8.“It’s tough to have a good tempo when you are always in the box,” said Vallée. “They are really big, but for us it’s important to compete against big teams. We have to work really hard.”Jean-François Plante’s power-play goal at 10:55 of the second opened the scoring for Sherbrooke, but Victoriaville’s Petr Sidlik tied the game up five minutes later. Ross Johnston scored the eventual game-winner for the Tigres at 4:35 of the third with Angelo Micelli’s empty-netter with 10.4 seconds left sealing the game.After the game, the crowd gave the teams an ovation, and the players returned the favour, raising their sticks in honour of the fans and the community.“The other thing is that we can have people dream about something,” said Longchamps. “You have kids [from] the hockey school over there. They’re watching kids that might play in the NHL some day. When you stop dreaming you die.”