MONTREAL - It was a tough two-week, seven-game road trip for the Vancouver Canucks, but a special moment awaited at the end.
The Canucks got to take part in remembrance ceremonies honouring Canadiens great and hockey legend Jean Beliveau, who died last week at 83.
The team attended Beliveau's public visitation at Bell Centre on Monday, and there was a pre-game ceremony planned for their road trip-ending game on Tuesday night.
"There's been so many ceremonies over the years that I don't get personally affected by them, but this will be a pretty special one," said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "Throughout the course of my career there are a few special ceremonies that I think I'll remember when I retire.
"I'm sure this will be one of them. Having a chance to walk down the rink and pay respects to the family was a pretty special moment. It'll be sad in some respects, but also it's a celebration of his life. He was obviously a pretty tremendous man. I've got to know a lot more about him in the last couple of days just from hearing stories and reading about him."
Forward Daniel Sedin agreed it was not like most pre-game ceremonies.
"This is special because of the man he was, how big he was in this community and for this organization," said Sedin. "As a player, you go through ceremonies pretty much every time you play in Canada, but nothing like this."
The Canucks left home on Nov. 28 on their longest trip of the season, which included wins in Columbus, Washington and Pittsburgh, losses in Detroit and Toronto and an overtime defeat in Ottawa on Sunday.
"It's a difficult road trip," added Bieksa. "It's good from a perspective of getting together with the guys, bonding, having some team dinners.
"Wins can be galvanizing, moreso on the road, but it's also been a long trek."
The Canucks (18-6-5) have been one of the surprise teams in the early part of the NHL schedule. And once the road trip is out of the way, they can look forward to a break. They begin a four-game homestand Saturday night against the New York Rangers and play nine of their next 11 at home, where they are 7-3-1 this season.
Coach Willie Desjardins said an extended trip can be good for the team in the long run.
"You get these stretches, we'll get another (five-game trip) in March, and if you're ever fortunate enough to get to the playoffs, you get it again," said Desjardins. "It's a good way for your team to learn and be prepared for that, because in the end you've got to find a way to win every night. It doesn't matter what the situation is."
Asked to assess the trip, Desjardins said: "Parts of it have been good. The Toronto game (a 5-2 loss on Saturday night) I thought we played hard. We didn't play good in the Ottawa game, but the Toronto game we played hard. I thought we played hard in the Detroit game (a 5-3 loss). You're not happy about losing, but at least we had good effort in those games."
The trip has been memorable for rookie Bo Horvat, who found it longer than any he went on in junior hockey with the London Knights.
"It's awesome," he said. "I only got to see three or four NHL rinks over the past years, so to be playing in all these rinks and seeing the different cities, it's pretty special.
"To visit all these cities and to come close to home and have all the family there, it's pretty cool."
The 19-year-old Horvat said he has been given no indication whether he will be loaned to Team Canada for the world junior championship in Montreal and Toronto. NHL teams have until the Dec. 19 roster freeze to decide whether to loan out junior-age players. He hopes to stay with the Canucks.
The low point of the Canucks' trip came in Toronto, when centre Shawn Matthias left the game in the second period after taking an elbow to the head from Maple Leafs defenceman Stephane Robidas.
Matthias, who missed the next game in Ottawa, took some line rushes in the game-day skate in Montreal but was uncertain to play.
"I'm just kind of being cautious," said Matthias, who was not pleased that Robidas was not disciplined by the NHL for the hit. "It was a pretty vicious hit to the head.
"The point of contact was my head. But I don't want to be looked upon as a complainer, so I'm not going to complain about the hit. I'm going to move on from it. I'm not happy about not hearing anything about it, but my main focus now is to get ready to get back into the lineup and try and get to 100 per cent."
He added that he felt good after the session.
"I thought I had a good skate," he said. "I have to do some more testing and see how it goes. I'm not sure when I’ll be back in. I've got to pass the tests."