Stu on Sports: Canadiens' Jeff Petry and family very happy in Montreal

Geoff Molson hoping to have some fans at Bell Centre, Nate Thompson gets a special new number with Jets, and a new job for Torrey Mitchell.

Boyd Petry cheers on his father, Jeff, during a Canadiens game against the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on Feb. 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Montreal Canadiens

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Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry and his family are very happy to be staying in Montreal.

The 32-year-old defenceman recently signed a four-year, US$25-million contract extension with the Canadiens that runs through the 2024-25 season with an average salary of $6.25 million per year. That’s a slight raise from Petry’s six-year, US$33-million contract that has one more season to go with an average salary of $5.5 million.

This marks the second time since coming to Montreal that Petry has given up an opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent and his new deal includes a clause in which he can submit a 15 team no-trade list, according to CapFriendly.com.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin acquired Petry from the Edmonton Oilers on March 2, 2015, in exchange for a second-round pick (Jonas Siegenthaler) and a fourth-round pick (Caleb Jones) at the 2015 NHL Draft. It’s one of the best trades Bergevin has made during his eight years as GM of the Canadiens.

Petry was selected by Edmonton in the second round (45th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft and never played in a playoff game during his five seasons with the Oilers. His first taste of playoff action came with the Canadiens in 2015 — when they beat the Ottawa Senators in the first round before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning — and that experience, including the atmosphere at the Bell Centre, helped convince Petry to stay in Montreal after the season and sign a new contract.

The Canadiens’ performance in the postseason this year, along with the play of youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, helped Petry decide again that he wanted to stay in Montreal and give up a second chance to become a free agent.

Petry is from Ann Arbor, Mich., and his father, Dan, was a major-league pitcher for 13 seasons, helping the Detroit Tigers win the 1984 World Series.

During an interview Thursday with former Canadien Chris “Knuckles” Nilan on his Off the Cuff radio show on Montreal’s TSN 690, Petry talked about what it was like when he first arrived in Montreal after being traded from the Oilers.

“My first three or four games were on the road,” Petry recalled. “Everybody was very welcoming with open arms and then walking into the Bell Centre for the first time and seeing the wall of Stanley Cups lined up there (outside the locker room). I come from a baseball family and my dad and I always talked (about the Canadiens being) the New York Yankees of the NHL. To see the history lining the walls in the locker room and walking into the locker room … you know when you’re walking through there it’s a special place to think about all the previous players that have worn that jersey.”

Petry’s family — wife Julie and their three young sons, Boyd, Barrett and Bowen — are now settled and very comfortable living on Montreal’s South Shore.

“When we first got there my wife was pregnant with our first, so those schooling issues we didn’t have to deal with,” Petry told Nilan from his offseason home in Michigan. “But just the city, the two languages, especially when you’re walking through Old Montreal it has that European feel. And then as time goes on you become more comfortable and know the places that fit you and might work best for you. We live on the South Shore, close to the practice rink (in Brossard), which is a nice, quiet area. As time goes on, we have three boys now and our oldest (Boyd) is 5 so he’ll be starting school when we get back.

“There’s little adjustments and little things that being from the U.S. are a little different,” Petry added. “But I look forward to Boyd learning French and I think that opportunity is only going to benefit him moving forward in life as he can speak two languages. Two of the three boys have gone to a daycare for a number of years now and just there they’ve picked up little bits of French and they’ll come home and they’ll sing songs in French. I just think it’s a really cool experience and, like I said, I think it’s going to benefit them later in life being able to speak multiple languages.”

Boyd stole the hearts of Canadiens fans two seasons ago when a camera crew followed him around the Bell Centre while watching his dad play a game against the Florida Panthers for a video on the team’s website. (Here’s link to a column I wrote about it.) Julie Petry has also posted some adorable videos on social media of her boys watching their dad play road games on TV.

“After I signed the (contract) extension I got a lot of congratulations messages and I think at least half, if not more, of those messages were: ‘We’re excited to have you back on the ice, but we’re excited for four more years of Boyd’s videos,’” Petry said.

Molson hoping for fans at Bell Centre

Canadiens owner/president Geoff Molson sat down for a lengthy interview this week with Alexandre Pratt of La Presse, during which he spoke about the possibly of getting fans back into the Bell Centre at some point next season.

“It would not be responsible for pushing for a return to normal without the vaccine,” Molson says in the La Presse story. “Normal is 21,000 spectators. But we can calmly adjust to (welcome) supporters in the Bell Centre in a safe manner if there is no vaccine.

“The concept of bubbles interests me,” Molson added. “Family bubbles, for example. People who live together could come to the Bell Centre together, and sit together. If we manage to accommodate 4,000 spectators with an acceptable distance, with masks, with everything you need in the Bell Centre to make it safe, it’s worth a try.”

Playing games in empty arenas is a money-losing situation for all NHL teams and Molson told Pratt the Canadiens could do it for one season but that it wouldn’t be sustainable long-term.

“In the current situation, no team, in any league, can survive without long-term spectators,” Molson said. “If (it persists) the system will have to change.”

Caufield tested positive for COVID-19

Cole Caufield, the Canadiens’ first-round pick (15th overall) at the 2019 NHL Draft, revealed during an interview this week with Grant McCagg of Recrutes.ca that he had tested positive for COVID-19 about a month ago, adding that six players on his University of Wisconsin team were “directly affected” but none had shown any symptoms.

Caufield announced this month that he will stay at Wisconsin for his sophomore year with the Badgers scheduled to start their NCAA Big Ten season as early as Nov. 13 following a six-week delay because of the pandemic. The Big Ten season will feature a 24-game conference schedule, plus an additional four games per school against Arizona State University.

During his freshman season, Caufield posted 19-17-36 totals in 36 games with the Badgers. The 19-year-old is expected to leave Wisconsin and turn pro after the upcoming season.

Romanov impresses Petry

During a video conference Thursday, Canadiens coach Claude Julien said he’d be surprised if Russian defenceman Alexander Romanov isn’t with the team to start next season.

The Canadiens selected Romanov in the second round (38th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft and the 20-year-old posted 0-7-7 totals in 43 games last season, along with a plus-21, in 43 games with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Romanov joined the Canadiens in the postseason bubble in Toronto and practised with the team, but was ineligible to play games.

Petry liked what he saw from the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Romanov during those practices.

“Coming into the bubble at that point when he was able to start skating, we had kind of split the Black Aces and the guys that were playing the games up,” Petry told Nilan. “But there were a handful of times that he would skate with us and if not we were waiting for the bus watching those guys skate. Just in watching, he looks like he’s a guy that really competes hard. It’s a small glimpse, but doing little physical drills in practice he looks like he’s not afraid to play a physical game and he skates well. So with those assets and abilities I think that translates well into the NHL game. Just from that small sample size it looks like he’s going to be a very good player in the near future.”

The Canadiens’ first two pairings on defence next season are expected to be Shea Weber with Ben Chiarot and Petry with newcomer Joel Edmundson. That leaves Brett Kulak, Victor Mete and Romanov battling for the two spots on the third pairing. All three of them are left-hand shots.

“You saw Mete in the playoffs play mostly on the right side,” Julien said. “Mete’s a guy that’s played there in junior and he’s certainly a guy that can play there. I know Edmundson’s played on the right side, too. You’re going to say: ‘Well, what if he’s with Petry?’ At the end of the day, when training camp starts, what we have predicted and projected may not be what we have or it may not be the pairs that we have to start. So there’s always that flexibility and I know Romanov’s played the right as well.

“Ideally when a player’s that young, you like to put him on his side where he’s most comfortable,” Julien added. “So those are kinds of things that I think we’ll have to explore. … I don’t think it’s an issue. I think it’s just a matter of feeling our way through it and seeing what the best fit’s going to be. So we have a lot of guys. The only guy that I’m not 100-per-cent sure on is probably Kulak, if he’s comfortable playing on the right side. I know that Mete is, I know that Edmundson is, I know Romanov is, so there’s a lot of flexibility there. So it’s just a matter of putting it together.”

New number for ‘Uncle Nate’

Former Canadien Nate Thompson has decided to wear No. 11 next season with the Winnipeg Jets in honour of Rick Rypien.

Rypien played six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks before signing with the Jets as a free agent following the 2010-11 season. But Rypien took his own life on Aug. 27, 2011 at age 27, following a battle with clinical depression that included two personal leaves of absence while playing for the Canucks.

No one has worn Rypien’s No. 11 with the Jets since they moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg after the 2010-11 season.

Thompson, who earned the nickname “Uncle Nate” with the Canadiens, celebrated his fourth anniversary of sobriety on Oct. 10, the same day he signed a one-year, US$750,000 contract with the Jets as a free agent. The Canadiens traded the 36-year-old centre to the Philadelphia Flyers at last season’s NHL trade deadline in exchange for a fifth-round pick at the 2021 NHL Draft. Thompson wore No. 44 with the Canadiens and the Flyers.

Defenceman Josh Morrissey wears No. 44 for Winnipeg and when Thompson spoke with Jets head equipment manager Jason McMaster about the list of available numbers he said “what about 11?”

“(McMaster) said he hadn’t given the number out since Rick Rypien wore it and he said if anyone was going to wear it, it would be you,” Thompson said in a story on the Jets website. “At first, I was kind of nervous about it. It was kind of overwhelming at first because I know how much Rick Rypien meant to people. I had to think about it a little bit.”

Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger reached out to Rypien’s grandmother and father to get their approval for Thompson to wear No. 11 and also spoke with Kevin Bieksa and Ben Chiarot, who know Thompson well as former teammates.

I can’t think of a better person than Thompson to wear No. 11 in honour of Rypien.

New job for Torrey Mitchell

Former Canadiens forward Torrey Mitchell has a new job running the ELEV802 Performance and Custom Ice facility in Essex, Vt., which offers private on-ice training for young hockey players with no more than a 4-to-1 player to coach ratio.

Mitchell is running the facility along with Peter Lenes, his former teammate at the University of Vermont, where Mitchell was captain of the Catamounts. Mitchell, a Greenfield Park native, now lives in Vermont with his wife Brindy, who he met at the University of Vermount, and their three young daughters.

Mitchell and Lenes recently hired Kevin Sneddon, their former University of Vermont coach, who retired from that position after 17 years in February.

“It’s come full circle, I recruited both of them,” Sneddon told Vermont’s NBC affiliate. “They worked hard for me, now I am going to work hard for them.

“They are energizing me now, I used to have to cheer them on, now they are energizing the more experienced, older coach,” Sneddon added.

Last year, Mitchell was inducted into the University of Vermont Athletic Hall of Fame. He played three seasons for the Catamounts, posting 35-70-105 totals in 115 games, was a two-time Hockey East All-Star and was named the Catamounts’ MVP after his third season, when he had 12-23-35 totals in 39 games.

Mitchell, 35, played 10 seasons in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Buffalo Sabres, Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings, posting 67-85-152 totals in 666 games.

An interesting Patrick Roy story

The other day Adrian Dater — who covers the Colorado Avalanche for ColoradoHockeyNow.com, tweeted out a link to an excerpt from his book 100 Things Avalanche Fans Should know and Do Before They Die.

The excerpt is from the chapter titled Patrick Roy Does Damage in Anaheim and tells the story about the Hall of Fame goalie blowing a gasket after first-year Avalanche coach Bob Hartley pulled him from a game against the Ducks for a few minutes in December 1999 during a power play to give his top players an extra rest after an extended shift.

The Avalanche scored the game-winning goal with Roy on the bench and backup goalie Craig Billington earned the win despite never making a save before Roy was put back in goal.

After the game, while his teammates celebrated the win, an angry Roy stormed into the coach’s office with his goalie stick in hand, started screaming at Hartley in French and then smashed a TV and VCR.

Here’s the tweet Dater sent out about his story on Roy, which is definitely worth a read:

Andre Dawson honoured

Former Expos outfielder and Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was selected Thursday by Major League Baseball’s Players Association as winner of the inaugural Curt Flood Award, given to a former player who “demonstrated a selfless, longtime devotion to the Players Association and advancement of players’ rights.”

“Dawson was known throughout his 21-year Major League career as a player who led through quiet example and boundless effort on the field — even through a series of knee injuries that were exacerbated by playing on Montreal’s hard Astroturf,” Matt Kelly writes on MLB.com. “His legacy includes a memorable decision prior to the 1987 season when Dawson, a top free agent during the height of collusion by Major League clubs, handed the Cubs a blank contract and asked Chicago to fill out a salary that it deemed appropriate for his talents.”

Chicago gave Dawson a $500,000 salary — less than what the Expos had offered — and he won the National League MVP award during his first season with the Cubs after hitting .287 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs.

Kelly noted that Dawson’s decision to sign with the Cubs was considered a landmark moment for player rights and helped eventually produce a $280-million collusion settlement between MLB players and the team owners.

When Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010 he wanted to enter wearing a Cubs cap, but was over-ruled by the Hall and instead went in as an Expo.

“When I think about them immortalizing a cap, it would be the Chicago Cubs for a lot of personal reasons,” Dawson told the Palm Beach Post after learning of the Hall’s decision. “When the announcement was made last night it was a little gut-wrenching.

“I think it would have been a huge gesture to show the Cubs fans exactly how those six years catapulted me into the position of even being considered for the Hall of Fame,” Dawson added. “I don’t think it was the first 10 years (with the Expos).”

Dawson is one of only three players to enter the Hall of Fame wearing an Expos cap, along with Gary Carter and Tim Raines. Raines is the only one who chose to go in as an Expo. Carter wanted to wear a New York Mets cap after winning a World Series with them in 1986.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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