Stu Cowan: Welcome to the Montreal moment for the Canadiens’ Chris Wideman

“Hey man, you’re pretty good. Where do you play?” the young man says after skating with Habs’ defenseman at an outdoor rink.

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It was a very good welcome to the Montreal moment for Chris Wideman.

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The Canadiens defenseman grew up in St. Louis, so he never skated at an outdoor rink as a kid.

But with the Canadiens suspending all activities for a week due to COVID-19 after their 5-2 loss to the Panthers in Florida on New Year’s Day, Wideman decided to put on his skates last week and make it to one of the many outdoor tracks of Montreal.

“I never got a chance to do that growing up, so I think that’s awesome,” Wideman said after the Canadiens’ morning skate Wednesday in Boston. “Driving around the city, you can see that different parks have tracks and the city maintains them, which is even cooler. I think it’s amazing how lucky these kids are to have that.”

Wednesday night was Wideman’s first game since Dec. 11 when the Canadiens lost 5-1 to the Bruins. It wasn’t a good night for the Canadiens or Wideman, who was penalized for roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct in the third period after headbutting the Bruins’ Erik Haula during a scrum through the boards. On Thursday, the NHL suspended Wideman for one game.

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There was more bad news for the Canadiens when goalie Jake Allen had to leave the game at 5:11 p.m. of the first period with what appeared to be a lower-body injury. On Thursday morning, the Canadiens emergency called goalie Cayden Primeau from the taxi team before Thursday night’s game against the Blackhawks in Chicago.

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Wideman went on a pretty wild ride during his long break between games, including the birth of his first child with his wife, Caroline. Henry Stone Wideman was born on December 14.

“Pretty much the high point of your life with the birth of our first child, which was amazing, and the team allowed me two days to be home with my wife and accommodate them,” Wideman said of returning home to St. Louis to witness the birth of their son. “Then I ran back for the Philadelphia game (December 16, a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Center). I had travel delays so I didn’t make it to the game in time. I was able to skate the next day with some guys, a team practice, and then close for Christmas.

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“So he runs home (to St. Louis) and then spends Christmas at home,” Wideman added. “He rushes back to Montreal to test positive for COVID (December 27) and to be alone in my apartment for 10 days. There have definitely been ups and downs, but he kept in touch with the guys on the team. Just try to stay positive. But the hardest part is being away from my wife and son. Thank God for FaceTime. I’m not sure how I would have done this five or ten years ago. Very grateful for that. But really excited to play again. Hockey players don’t do very well with free time.”

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Wideman will have more time off due to his suspension. In 23 games this season, the 32-year-old defenseman is 2-7-9 overall with a minus-7 differential.

Wideman signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Canadiens as a free agent during the offseason after spending last season in Russia with the Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo, where he led all KHL defensemen in scoring at 9-32-41. totals in 59 games.

He flew to Russia to join the Torpedo 13 days after getting married. Caroline was unable to join him immediately due to visa issues related to COVID.

“It was a hard sell … the honeymoon in Russia,” Wideman said during training camp before the start of this season. “The time change is obviously difficult. The newlyweds, trying to stay awake, meet before we go to sleep. We’re very close and she’s someone I really lean on, especially in the last couple of years when hockey has been tough.”

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Wideman is back in touch with his wife, and their new baby, on FaceTime, but he’s not complaining.

Wideman estimated that he had gone about 15 days without putting on his skates when he headed to the outdoor rink in Montreal.

“I was excited to be there,” he said. “I was there for about four or five minutes and a smaller kid skated towards me. He was like, ‘Hey man, you’re pretty good. Where do you play?’ And so we laughed a lot.”

Wideman loved his time on the outdoor track.

“It’s so much fun working with some of the kids on shooting and passing,” he said. “I think the first day I was out for about an hour and a half by myself and with some of the neighborhood kids. It’s something I really enjoyed. I think more than anything to have the opportunity to be in the community and interact with people who are our true fans. The children who watch the games on television and enjoy hockey a lot.”

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Reference-montrealgazette.com

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