North Bay coach gets red carpet treatment as greatest Canadian hockey fan

Brideau, a Habs fan to the core, was having his photo taken with the past and present Montreal Canadiens personalities faster than Muller could get off a slapshot when he was in his prime.

It was the perfect beginning to a memorable weekend for the world’s greatest hockey fan.

“I’ve always been a Habs fan,” said Brideau. “My hero growing up was Guy Lafleur. I’ve met him a couple of times, and that was really special.”

Brideau was treated special all weekend.

In a contest last spring, Brideau, 39, won a trip for two to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a full slate of special events at the hockey shrine, tickets to the Montreal-Toronto NHL game Saturday night, and passes for the Monday induction ceremonies for Patrick Roy, Dick Duff, Harley Hotchkiss and the late Herb Brooks.

Michael Brideau, 12, the winner’s oldest son, is sharing in the weekend prize package. Younger brother Zachary, 8, and Brideau’s friend Tom Laronde got to make the trip, too, when Bruell Contracting in North Bay provided extra tickets for the NHL game and the Sunday afternoon Legends oldtimers game.

Contest entrants submitted a photo and a 250-word explanation about why they should be named “Lay’s Greatest Canadian Hockey Fan” and visitors from across the country to the potato chip producer’s website deemed Brideau’s essay best among those of five finalists.

Brideau coaches his sons’ hockey teams and is on the executive of his minor hockey association.

In his essay, Brideau wrote about a tournament in Kanata, Ont., when he told his peewee players after a win that if they won their next two games they could do anything to his hair that they desired. The result was spectacularly colourful. They shaved what hair he had and painted one side of his head green and the other yellow – the team’s colours.

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The sponsors expect the contest will be an annual affair, and Brideau is the first to have a display in the hall’s fan zone to promote his well-deserved notoriety.

“Hockey, that’s our house 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” says Brideau. “I’m usually at the arena five days out of seven, and when we’re home we’re either playing road hockey or watching hockey on TV.”

He visually devoured the Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky displays, and he watched in awe as Jean Beliveau and Dave Keon signed autographs. He’s an assistant manager of a Sportchek sporting goods store in North Bay.

Brideau never got to play much organized hockey himself after having an elbow busted in three places at age 11 while growing up in Fort Erie, Ont. He enjoys the current NHL style with zero tolerance on obstruction.

“It opens up the game a lot for smaller, skilled players, and that’s good,” he said. “It’s more wide-open, and fans like to see that type of hockey.”

The youngsters he coaches also are being instructed to stop hooking and holding.

“They’re starting to catch on,” said Brideau. “With my peewee team, I told them at the start of the season that they’re going to have to watch how they play because of the new rules.

“I said, ‘Hey, guys, you’ve got to watch your stick work, and no grabbing.’ They’ve sort of caught on. There’ve been some videos provided to help the coaches, so the players are finding out what they can or can’t do.” In his imagination, Brideau, thanks to that Kanata tournament, will have a plaque in the Great Hall builders’ section between those of renowned coaches Bowman and Brooks.