“It’s hard to imagine better,” Alexis Lafrenière said in French after the game.
For the 20 year-old, first overall pick in the 2020 Draft from Saint-Eustache, Quebec it was living out a childhood dream. “It’s special,” he noted before the game. “I found it nice just to come back to the Bell Centre and get on the ice. I used to come to see games here when I was young. I was watching my favorite players and now it’s my turn.”
New York Rangers wanted it to be special for Alexis Lafrenière
Gerard Gallant, out of hockey almost two years himself wasn’t aware that Alexis’ family had yet to see him play in person. “I didn’t realize until last night that Alexis would be making his Montreal debut,” the coach said. “He’s a French Canadian and a first overall pick in an NHL Draft, so it’s a big moment for him.”
At the morning skate, Gallant had Lafrenière along with fellow French Canadian players Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier lead the stretches on the ice. It certainly resonated with Alexis.
“It was the idea of the other guys on the team,” he said in French via TVA Sports. “They asked us to do the stretching since we are at home. It was fun.”
Alexis Lafrenière had butterflies
The idea that anyone could be calm in their very first game playing in a place they watched hockey as a child is ludicrous. Add on top of that, it was the first time his family and friends could see him live in over a year due to the pandemic, incredible.
His teammates actually were pretty amazed at how calm he was coming into the game. If they only knew he was like on a duck on water.
“I wanted to stay in my pre-game routine,” said Lafrenière. “I had butterflies as I got on the ice and saw the crowds. In my first visit, I kept it simple.”
In the first period, Alexis admitted he had to get the nerves out. He only played 3:59 of the opening stanza, but an injury to Kaapo Kakko put him on the top PP unit for the second period. Lafrenière didn’t pick up a point when Chris Kreider opened the scoring to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead on the man advantage, but it was a positive for him.
A night to remember for the Lafrenière family
In the third period, Jonathan Drouin set the stage for the most incredible moment of the young kid’s career. Just 26 seconds after Drouin tied the game, Adam Fox hit Mika Zibanejad with a beautiful pass. The Blueshirts’ top pivot came streaking in on Jake Allen and then slid the puck to Lafrenière going to the net. This kid didn’t miss and buried it for the eventual game-winning goal.
If you thought Alexis was excited, his father almost went through the roof of the Bell Centre.
“Pretty good moment to score in Montreal,” a grinning Lafrenière said. “It was really special. The building was electric tonight. I got a couple of stitches from it, but it was worth it.”
Indeed, after he scored a Habs stick clipped him in the face causing a cut. A little blood was a small price to pay for the kid who grew up an hour away from the Bell Centre.
For Alexis Lafreniére it was his first goal of the season, in his first NHL game in his hometown of Montreal. He is the first Quebec-born Ranger to score a goal against Montreal since Derick Brassard on March 26, 2016.
“I want to thank my family and friends. They came to see me play,” he said after splurging for a few tickets. “It was a special game for me. I had dreamed about it for a long time. To be able to live it and score a goal is the icing on the cake.”
In the end, Lafreniere led the team in shots with 5 and played 16:16 memorable minutes. His stat line read 1 goal and a +1 rating, but most importantly, it evened the Rangers record to 1-1-1.
A great night all around. Especially for he Lafrenières.
—All French quotes translated from TVA Sports in Montreal
NHL RECAPS: All the action from October 16, 2020
From Lafrenière’s heroics in Montreal to McDavid’s offensive dominance, here’s all the results.