Jonathan Drouin expected to be booed for his return to Montreal. He was right when he thought that. After all, this is the treatment that Canadiens fans typically reserve for star players on opposing teams or alumni who continue their careers elsewhere.
He knows his audience. At his first appearances we heard a few murmurs in the crowd. Especially coming from the heights of the Bell Center. The booing increased somewhat in the third period, while the outcome of the game, which the locals ultimately won 4-3, was still uncertain.
“All day I tried to control my emotions,” Drouin said after the meeting. I expected worse. It was almost cool. During my first visits I had to laugh inside. »
However, we were far from the fate previously reserved for Zdeno Chara or, more recently, Connor Bedard.
From the moment Michel Lacroix confirmed the Quebecer's assist on the game's first goal, they virtually fell silent. The rest of the amphitheater applauded this announcement.
Drouin also received warm applause when the Habs offered him a tribute video during the first commercial break. You could feel the emotion in his eyes as he greeted the crowd from the Avalanche bench.
Photo Martin Chevalier
“I had to control my emotions a little,” he admitted.
Drouin played six seasons in the Canadian jersey. Despite several slumps, the Lightning's first-round pick in 2013 gained public favor toward the end of his career.
He was the first to make it clear to Montreal fans that an athlete can also struggle with mental health issues. That millions of dollars and hockey games were no guarantee of peace of mind.
Physically and mentally exhausted, Drouin left warmups for a game in Calgary. It was April 23, 2021 (he would later explain that he had suffered from anxiety and insomnia for several years).
He didn't return until the following season, missing the final two weeks of the regular season and the improbable run that led the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I received a lot of support here. Thank you to everyone in the Canadiens organization. »
The first of several
Until then, the Canadian was harsh on him due to production that fell far short of expectations, but then his supporters changed their attitude towards him.
During his first appearance on the ice at the Bell Center in September 2021, in an intra-squad match, Drouin was treated to his first wave of love.
A few weeks later, in his first official game in Montreal after this break, the striker received a warm ovation.
Drouin's cries for help were not only heard by the NHL, they also served as an inspiration to other players in the circle. The reasons were far from the same, but Carey Price, in turn, joined the program a few months after Drouin.
Recently, one of his Avalanche teammates, Samuel Girard, also had to withdraw from competition for a month. Of course, among those who helped him get through this ordeal were Robervalois' family and friends.
And not far in the shadows was Drouin, who made sure his teammate was okay by exchanging messages with him.
After the hardships he endured, we can only be happy to see Drouin reborn to the left of Nathan MacKinnon, his Halifax Mooseheads accomplice, and Mikko Rantanen.
Because before he becomes an ice hockey player, Drouin is, above all, a man with a heart.