Habathon Brings Out Canadiens Stars, Legends for Charity

(Photo by Luke Orlando)

MONTREAL, QC. — As one could probably imagine, the benefits that come along with being a professional athlete are overwhelmingly plentiful. In addition to the fame and recognition that athletes receive, the luxurious lifestyles that they live, and the financial stability that they acquire, these individuals are privileged enough to earn an annual salary while playing a game that they genuinely love. However, while these are the obvious advantages attached to competing on the big stage, professional athletes are also bound by certain responsibilities, such as making themselves visible in their local community. In Montreal, this was a reality on Sunday afternoon when hundreds of Habs fans attended the Hockey Helps Habathon at the Place Vertu Shopping Center in Ville Saint Laurent.

At possibly the most star studded autograph signing in recent years, Montreal Canadiens legends Guy Lafleur, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer, Yvon Lambert, Rejean Houle, Bobby Rousseau, and Chris “Knuckles” Nilan were all on hand for what was a truly special day. And as if those names aren’t impressive enough, players from the current Montreal Canadiens roster including Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais, Josh Gorges, Travis Moen, Brandon Prust, and Ryan White all made appearances as well.

For some of the legends, this event marked a prime opportunity for them to rekindle their most cherished hockey memories with fans of a previous generation. Yvon Lambert mentioned that all the former players still have a special relationship with the people in Montreal: “All the ex Montreal Canadiens are still pretty popular and especially all the ones that won Stanley cups. People still see our pictures on TV and talk about us on the radio.” His ex-teammate and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Guy Lafleur reaffirmed this assertion: “It’s fantastic to see all of the fans that followed our careers. Especially the moms and dads, and the young kids too, because they know about us too.”

For four time Stanley cup champion Bobby Rousseau, Sunday’s event was an opportunity to catch up with old teammates and to introduce himself with younger fans: “There are actually a lot of former players here today that I’m meeting and that I haven’t seen in a long time. Some people here are old enough to remember me, and those that don’t, it will be nice to meet them.” Ex Canadien Rejean Houle admitted that some of the fans got very emotional over their hockey heroes: “One girl was crying because I was her favorite player so I had to take a picture with her even though we weren’t supposed to. It’s amazing. We’ve been retired for a long time but like I said to them ‘we grew up together.’”

When current stars arrived in the afternoon, excitement levels at Place Vertu mall began to increase significantly. And while all the fans were anxiously awaiting an opportunity to meet their favorite players, the guests of honor were equally as enthused. Forward Brandon Prust mentioned that when Hockey Helps approached him, he immediately said yes: “Anything with the Habs Foundation or the Children’s Hospital, it’s always good to give back. Obviously the kids are the most important so we enjoy doing this. And with this stuff, it’s an easy answer when they ask us to do stuff like this.”

Defenseman Josh Gorges admitted that the fans are a big part of their success: “I think it’s always important to come out and meet the people that come watch us play. Without them we wouldn’t have a job and I think it’s important to have the same interaction that we do with everybody else.” Further, Habs goalie Carey Price indicated that Hockey Helps is a special organization because of its ability to help those in need: “It obviously helps a lot of people. And for us, it’s special to be able to give back. If you just look at the name ‘Hockey Helps,’ it’s a group of hockey players that are coming together to help a great cause.”

(Photo by Luke Orlando)
(Photo by Luke Orlando)

Power forward Max Pacioretty even agreed that he relished the opportunities he had to meet professional hockey players when he was a young boy: “(When I was a kid,) it was always exciting to see athletes, and to see people you look up to.” At the end of the day, fan favorite P.K. Subban spoke about his interaction with some of the fans at the event: “They were great. You could see that it got emotional for some fans who have maybe never met some of the players before. So that was cool to see, and to see some little kids that wanted to get their jerseys signed. I don’t think people understand how important it is for these kids. Some of them really look up to us as role models and when we can sign an autograph for them, it’s a huge deal.”

With a large percentage of the proceeds headed to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and to local schools, Habathon was a huge success. Wessley Perisa, the founder of Hockey Helps, acknowledged that his organization was ultimately designed with the primary focus of using hockey to benefit children who are less fortunate: “I’m hoping to raise a lot of funds for the Montreal Canadiens children’s foundation, and put a lot of smiles on the fans faces. They don’t get the opportunity to meet their players too often, and having this many together at one event is pretty special.” He also indicated that it was important for Hockey Helps to lure specific athletes, ones that are personable, and that want to be there: “We wanted to have big legends that the fans adore and appreciate. And for the current players, we wanted to have players that appreciate their fans, that bring their fans a lot of smiles, that take the time to shake hands, guys that are personable and take the time to sign autographs. Those are the type of guys that I like to bring to my events.” Finally, Perisa also acknowledged that it’s the organization’s long-term goal to generate a whole lot of money and awareness for people who need it: “(It’s a goal of mine) to raise a whole lot of money for a whole lot of important organizations and charities.”

When the event finally concluded at around five o’clock, all the fans left Place Vertu mall with huge smiles on their faces. And after hundreds of handshakes and autographs, people were beaming with joy upon meeting their heroes. As for the players, they themselves departed with smiles equally as big. Feeling as though they made a genuine difference in the community, it is safe to say that all involved were pleased with the response. With Habathon now in their rearview mirror, Canadiens players are now focused on another important task, capturing the franchises 25th Stanley Cup.

Did you attend Habathon? Send your photos to [email protected] and we’ll share them with Canadiens fans everywhere!