Habs open camp to packed house
Second-round pick Guillaume Latendresse continued to impress on Wednesday, holding his own against the more veteran talent during Montreal's scrimmage.
MONTREAL - There might not have been any player introductions or national anthems performed, but that didn't deter fans from packing the Pierrefonds Arena to watch the Canadiens play their first game - however unofficial it was - in 513 days.
Yes, it was only an intrasquad game pitting teams made up of current and future Canadiens, but puck-starved fans in hockey-mad Montreal couldn't wait to get their first glimpse of their team since it dropped a series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in the second round of the 2004 Playoffs.
On Day 1 of training camp, Team Red got the best of Team White by the score of 3-0. It was a busy day in Pierrefonds, with over 30 media members making the trip to Montreal's West Island to get an early look at who will eventually comprise the 2005-06 edition of the Canadiens.
ON THE SCORESHEET: In what came as a surprise to no one who watched him during the 2004 postseason, Alex Kovalev opened the scoring for Team Red after swooping in alone on Jose Theodore of Team White and beating him up high with a nifty backhand that brought everyone out of their seats. The Russian winger wasn't done, as he then cut into the zone, drawing two defenders as well as the eyes of goaltender Carey Price. He then slid the puck over to Corey Locke, who only had to tip it into a wide-open net. Wrapping up the scoring on the day was Mike Ribeiro, who took a pass from Guillaume Latendresse before firing the puck past Price as he sprawled to the ice.
COACH'S CORNER: Head coach Claude Julien liked what he saw on Day 1 from an intensity and pace standpoint. "What I saw out there today was very positive and encouraging," he said following the one-hour scrimmage. "The action was end-to-end and our team's quickness stood out as soon they dropped the puck. From the veterans to the younger guys fighting for a spot on the team, you could really see how excited they were to be back on the ice, even if it was just an intrasquad game."
KIDDING AROUND: Kovalev admitted to feeling energized once he hit the ice following the long layoff. "Getting out there and seeing all the fans that showed up was something special," he noted. "It had been so long, and being with all of the guys again in front of a packed house, I felt like a kid out there. We're just all excited to be back and the beginning of the season can't come soon enough."
LOVE ME TENDER: After lighting it up at the Rookie Tournament last week in Ottawa by netting six points in four games, Latendresse continued his strong work on the opening day of camp. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder was all over the ice once again as he rewarded the coaching staff for arming him with such linemates as Kovalev and Ribeiro.
Montreal's second-round choice at this year's draft was on everyone's mind following the scrimmage. "What more can you say about him?" asked Julien almost in disbelief. "He continued to impress just as he did at the rookie camp. Latendresse has carried that momentum over and although it's only the first day of camp, he showed that he can compete at this level. The thing that has struck me the most about him is how, even at only 18, he is not intimidated out there in the least."
Though pleased with his camp debut, the always-grounded youngster was encouraged by his performance but aware of the work that lies ahead. "I was a little nervous at first, but I got more comfortable with every shift," said Latendresse, who was swarmed by media following the scrimmage. "I felt really good today, but then again, it's not everyday you get to play with guys like Ribeiro and Kovalev, and that obviously didn't hurt, either."
When asked whether he was content to simply hold his own at the camp, Latendresse's response offered insight into what has made him so successful thus far. "It's not my style to go out there afraid to make mistakes," he said. "I'm just going to go for it and see what happens. The thing I'm most concerned with is consistency."
FIRST BLOOD: The hockey season can't be too far off since Steve Begin is already wearing a scar. The Canadiens' answer to the Energizer Bunny left the ice with a gash over his left eye from an errant high stick. It likely won't be the last nick this season for Begin, who is always happy to get his nose dirty.
CANNONBALL!: Despite giving up eight inches and almost 50 pounds to 6-foot-4, 241-pound Mike Komisarek, 5-foot-8 Francis Bouillon bowled over his fellow blueliner with a thunderous hit that caught everyone's attention.
PRICE'S FASHION STATEMENT: Top draft pick Carey Price, the first goaltender chosen at this summer's draft, may have allowed two goals in his 30 minutes of work on Wednesday, but he wasn't too worried about it judging from the T-shirt he wore while getting back on the bus. In what was either a reaffirmation of his position in goal or the faith he has in his abilities of being the right fit for the Canadiens down the road, it simply read "I'm a keeper".
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.