Jonathan Huberdeau grew up about 25 miles away from where the Canadiens play but didn’t get to see many games in person.
Tickets are hard to get in Montreal. Games are always sold out and prices on the secondary market are extremely high.
So, believe it or not, Huberdeau attended more Panthers home games as a kid than Canadiens games in Montreal.
The Saint-Jerome, Quebec, native and his family spent time snowbirding in South Florida — and being hockey fans, they found their way to the arena in Sunrise to check out whomever was in town. Sometimes it was the Canadiens.
“We were always there for Christmas,” Huberdeau said.
On Tuesday, the Panthers’ rookie winger had a pretty good view of things at the Bell Centre as he played in his third NHL game on ice he was well accustomed to seeing — from television, anyway.
“I grew up watching the Canadiens, so to play here is really cool,” Huberdeau said after Florida’s 4-1 loss in Montreal on Tuesday.
Huberdeau’s parents brought their Winnebago down to South Florida as they have followed their son’s progress through training camp and watched his NHL debut last weekend at BB&T Center.
Instead of driving north like they usually do, they flew to see Jonathan’s second game against Ottawa and then Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens. Huberdeau said he had a lot of ticket requests for friends and family for both games as Ottawa is about a two-hour drive from Montreal.
“They’ve done a lot of traveling and have supported me a lot,” Jonathan said. “I thank them a lot for that. It’s big for them.”
Said coach Kevin Dineen: “Any French player born in Quebec is excited about that first game in Montreal. And it is for his family as well. They get to see the road taken, the path to here, it’s special.”
The Panthers have high hopes for the third pick in 2011 as Huberdeau made a brilliant splash in his debut by scoring a goal on his first shot before assisting on two more goals.
Tuesday, Huberdeau had a great scoring chance get snuffed out by Montreal goalie Carey Price. Huberdeau gets his second chance at the Senators on Thursday night as Ottawa visits Sunrise for the first time this season.
Dineen started Huberdeau on Florida’s second forward line with veterans Peter Mueller and Alex Kovalev. He said the organization’s decision to have him miss last season and spend another season with his junior team in New Brunswick was the right one as Huberdeau matured and also got a little bigger and stronger.
“I’m always stepping on the scale hoping it’s going one way, and when Jonathan steps on it, I hope it goes the other,’’ Dineen said.
“With Jonathan, the difference between an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old is huge. You see a difference in maturity, and he had that extra year to develop as a person and a player. He wasn’t part of that important first step of us making the playoffs, but he’s going to be with us for a long, long time.”
With Kris Versteeg out the first four games (he could return from injured reserve for Saturday’s game against the Flyers), Florida’s top line has not done much of anything.
Center Stephen Weiss and left winger Tomas Fleischmann have started each of the first three games with different right ringers. In the opener it was Mike Santorelli, with Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky following suit.
Weiss said having different players isn’t an excuse to he and Fleischmann’s slow start. Weiss had an assist in the opener but nothing since; Fleischmann assisted on Kopecky’s goal Tuesday and also had one in the opener.
“This is the NHL. These are world-class players and it’s easy to play with all these guys,” Weiss said. “Versteeg is a great hockey player, and [Fleischmann] and myself miss him, for sure. But life goes on, and we have to make it work without him.”
Dineen said the Panthers aren’t expected to have Erik Gudbranson back until sometime next month. Gudbranson had surgery in September after injuring his shoulder wakeboarding.