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 invitation to his followers on the social network site to join him at a rink Wednesday afternoon.
Fans responded in droves.
The scene didn’t look much different than the one playing out at countless parks and ponds across Canada — except for the high turnout and, of course, the presence of an NHL alternate captain.
“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 contest, he mused that he may be a little slower than usual after having Christmas dinner the night before.
The game would have been slow regardless, though, due to the sheer number of players.
Dozens of skaters, ranging widely in age and skill level, packed on to the rink in Montreal’s Verdun neighbourhood.
“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 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, a 19-year-old from Montreal. “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’ invitation. He ended up having a lot more company than expected.
Boudjerida said he also appreciated Gorges’ 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 kind of sucks to be a fan right now.”
Gorges, who has spoken out against the NHL owners in the past, was happy to focus on the outdoor game Wednesday.
“It was a great turnout, I’m more than happy to see all these people come out,” he said.
Later in the evening, Gorges sent out another message on Twitter thanking everyone for coming and asking: “What do you think should we organize another game?”