Halak still a hero to Habs fans
JESSICA LAPINSKI, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Brown takes a shot against St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak during the third period of their NHL hockey game in St. Louis, Missouri, November 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Sarah Conard)
Jaroslav Halak left Montreal a hero in 2010, weeks after backstopping the Canadiens to their longest playoff run in nearly two decades.
And it was as a hero that the St. Louis Blues goalie returned to the Bell Centre ice Monday for his team's practice. You needed to see the crowd of journalists at the arena to understand Halak's impact on the Habs.
"I've never seen so many people in the stands for a practice until now, this season," Halak said the day before the Blues play the Canadiens.
The Slovak goalie was thrilled to return to Montreal, where he had his best seasons of his career to date, though he now considers St. Louis his home.
"It's always nice to come back here, even if it's a bit strange to be in the (visiting team) locker room," he said. "I hope that we play a good game. We will do our best."
The last time Halak played a game in Montreal, it was iu the playoffs almost two years ago. He played the fourth game of the conference final that the Habs eventually lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in five.
Last March, Halak played his former team for the first time, a game the Blues won 4-1 in St. Louis. But nothing compares to a return to Montreal.
Halak is also excited that his coach, Ken Hitchcock, named him the starter for the game.
"I hoped he would pick me," admitted Halak. "He has confidence in me and of course I hope to get the two points."
As for the reaction of fans, the goalie said he doesn't know what to expect. The Montreal crowd has not always been nice to former Habs. But Halak was always popular in the city.
"I'm happy to still have fans here," he said.
Though Tuesday's game will showcase Halak going head to head with former teammate Carey Price, he said he doesn't see the game as a duel between goalies.
"It's a game like the others," Halak said, adding he hadn't had a chance to speak with Price. "What matters is the two points."
Halak will have an advantage Tuesday, facing players he trained with many times in the past. But that can be a double-edged sword, too.
"They know how I play, too," he said. "It works both ways and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing."