Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) tries to redirect a shot against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) as P.K. Subban (76) defends in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in Detroit.
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DETROIT — There was a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, a Boston Bruins jersey, and even a Hartford Whalers jersey thrown in for good measure.
But among the fans who filled Joe Louis Arena on Friday, another jersey stood out besides the dominant red-and-white scheme of the Red Wings: the “bleu, blanc et rouge” of the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
In the first meeting between the two teams since December of 2010, Riley Sheahan’s goal midway through the second period helped the Red Wings to a 4-1 win over the Canadiens.
The NHL’s conference realignment in the offseason moved the Red Wings from the Western Conference’s Central Division to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division and created more frequent matchups between the Red Wings and teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers.
And, yes, the Canadiens, who join the Red Wings as one of the NHL’s original six franchises.
“I was surprised by all the fans,” said Sheahan, who gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead and helped Detroit move into a three-way tie for seventh in the Eastern Conference, with Columbus and Philadelphia (56 points).
“I’ve got an uncle and a cousin that are big Canadiens fans, and they’re maybe 75 percent Habs fans and 25 percent Wings fans,” Sheahan said with a chuckle. “They’re really into it, and my cousin already told me that because he’s such a die-hard Habs fan, he can’t convert for this one game.”
Michael Horricks came to Joe Louis from London, Ont., to watch the Canadiens. The appeal of the team, he said, is its history. Montreal has won 24 Stanley Cups and has produced some of hockey’s greatest players, including Guy LaFleur, Henri and Maurice Richard, and Howie Morenz.
“We mark this game on the calendar and when Detroit switched conferences, it was a good thing. It used to be every two years we’d come down and watch Montreal play,” Horricks said. “We’ve gone to games in Tampa Bay, Detroit, Buffalo, and we see Canadiens fans everywhere.”
Owen Kalp and his parents, Darby and Michele, drove to Detroit from Chatham, Ont., for his first NHL game. For his birthday, he received tickets to see Friday night’s game. When asked what the best part about his first game was, he held up a Red Wings practice puck he grabbed during pregame warmups.
As a Canadiens fan, Owen Kalp comes from a house divided.
“I’m a Leafs fan,” Darby Kalp admitted, as a chant of “Go Habs Go” went through the arena concourse. “A friend of Owen’s got to us early.”
The Canadiens fans left Joe Louis, however, disappointed. Brendan Gallagher scored Montreal’s only goal a minute after Sheahan’s tally, and Niklas Kronwall gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead with 3:31 left in the second. Gustav Nyquist also scored for Detroit with less than two minutes left in the game.
Even as Montreal’s fans streamed out of the building, they left little doubt when it comes to loyalty.
“When people see the Canadiens jersey, wherever you are, they know what the 'CH' on the jersey is,” Horricks said. “You get the fist pump, you get the nod. It’s like Jeep owners. Drive by a Jeep owner and you get the wave. You see the jersey and you get the same nod.”