MONTREAL – With the NHL lockout grinding through its fourth month, Montreal Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges looked to an unusual source to find his next hockey game: Twitter.
Gorges, 28, extended an open invite to his followers on the social network to join him at a Montreal rink on Boxing Day afternoon.
Fans responded in droves.
The scene didn’t look much different than the one playing out at countless parks and ponds across the country — except for the high turnout.
Dozens of players, ranging widely in age and skill level, packed into a rink in the city’s Verdun neighbourhood for a chance to skate alongside an NHL player.
“I haven’t played outdoors in a long time, but I figured we’ve got some time and I’ve got nothing else to do,” Gorges told reporters during a break from the game.
“I was just looking to skate outdoors and I threw it out there on Twitter and so many people were asking where I’d go play, so I thought why not set a time and place and we’ll all come and play.”
In recent days Gorges had been joking about the upcoming game in messages sent out to his 23,000-plus followers on Twitter. A few hours before the game, he mused that he may be a little slower than usual on the ice after having Christmas dinner the night before.
“I’m a big fan,” said Jason Joly, a nine-year-old dressed up in gloves, hat and a Canadiens jersey.
“I can’t wait to play with him.”
The event comes two days after the NHL lockout reached its 100th day. One fan who joined Gorges on the ice said he appreciated his effort to reach out to fans after months of frustration.
“I really respect what he did for the fans and I know he cares about his relationship with the community,” said David Stein, 19.
“I got to basically live out a dream here playing with one of my favourite players on the Montreal Canadiens. It was really a special day.”
Amar Boudjerida, a 25-year-old who suited up to play goalie, headed to the rink not knowing about Gorges’ invite — and ended up having a lot more company than expected.
Boudjerida said he also appreciated the gesture, but remains disgruntled over the dispute between NHL players and owners.
“I think it’s pretty insulting for the fans that they’re in a lockout based on how to spend our money, bottom line,” he said. “I don’t know whose fault it is exactly but it kinda sucks to be a fan right now.”