When he skated in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Acadie Bathurst, Mathieu Perreault often played the hero’s role. His reward for his heroics, say on the road in Val d’Or on a winter Saturday night? Little fanfare and an eighteen-hour bus ride home over black ice.
Eighteen hours to get back home. On a bus.
Perreault’s travel itinerary, and recognition, was a little different this past Saturday, as he led the Capitals to a 3-2 triumph over Chicago, scoring the game winner with just seconds left in overtime.
Perreault met his Capitals’ teammates at Reagan National Airport Saturday afternoon at 3:30 for a flight to the Windy City. Once on the ground, the team bused to the United Center, where Perreault took warmups on a sheet of ice in one of the NHL’s largest venues. In fact, 19,734 fans — an all-time hockey exhibition game record in Chicago — packed United Center Saturday night.
On Wednesday night in the Capitals’ locker room, moments after the team’s 6-2 besting of the Hawks four night later, Perreault had no ability to suppress residual elation over his game-winning heroics while wearing the Capitals’ crest in Chicago. He sensed that Saturday night was going to be special early on.
“My legs were great, I felt awesome on the ice all three periods,” he said.
He pounced on a loose puck in front of Cristobal Huet with just 12 seconds remaining in the 5-minute extra frame, and snapped it into the netting behind the former Caps’ netminder, setting off a mobbing of him by his Capitals’ teammates.
“I was just so excited,” he recounted, excitement returning to his voice and facial expression.”I mean it’s not every day you get a chance to score a goal to win in the NHL.”
Back in the visitor’s locker room Caps’ players and coaches continued to congratulate Perreault, “and when I got to Kettler on Sunday morning every player and coach came up to me again and congratulated me,” he added, keen appreciation in his voice.
But before returning to D.C. Perreault boarded a commercial airliner late Saturday night as a hockey hero, his travel time home less than two hours. I asked him if his jubilation, his euphoria as a Saturday NHL hero, settled at all by the time he boarded the plane with his teammates.
“I settled down a little bit on the plane [home], except I kept thinking, ‘What a night! What a night!’
“It felt so good just sitting there thinking about it. So great, so, so great.”
He probably wished it had been an 18-hour flight home.
Once he got home, I wondered, did Perreault log on to his computer and attempt to watch his Windy City heroics on YouTube?
“I went on YouTube,” he admitted, still smiling widely. “And I watched it two or three times for sure.”
“OK, maybe more,” he followed with a laugh.
It was around this time that Perreault began noticing his cell phone and email inbox teeming with messages from his parents, extended family, and close friends. Too many to tabulate.
“All my friends were texting me on my cell phone the next morning,” he noted. “My phone didn’t stop beeping Sunday.”
It seems appropriate that Mathieu Perreault got to enjoy a hockey hero’s celebration at 30,000 feet last Saturday night. His coaches in Washington this September will tell you that his career is clearly in an ascent.