Who is Jeff Halpern?
He may be the “new guy” when he shows up to training camp this year, but he’s far from a rookie when it comes to knowing what to expect in his fifth NHL home.
After becoming an unrestricted free agent this July, when the Canadiens came calling this summer, Halpern realized right away it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
He’ll also have plenty of familiar faces around to welcome him to the family when he lands in Montreal this fall. Having previously donned the stars and stripes on six occasions, Halpern has also played alongside fellow Americans and current teammates Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Hal Gill on the international stage.
“I played with all three of those guys with Team USA and I’ve listened to Hal’s stories about quite a few teams he’s played with. It’s going to be nice to come in and already know those guys,” admitted the Potomac, MD native, who also checked in with some other former teammates about their experiences in Montreal before inking his new deal. “Danius Zubrus played for the Habs and I played with him in Washington so we talked quite a bit about it and I talked to a few other ex-Montreal players around the league to see what it was like for them to play there. Everyone I know that’s ever played there has said it’s completely different from where they’ve played elsewhere in the league.”
But Halpern didn’t have to rely solely on second-hand accounts to know Montreal was where he belonged.
“I remember when I was with Washington about five years ago, we were playing like Game 61 on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and for us, we were already out of the playoffs by probably about October that year,” recalled the 34-year-old penalty killing specialist with a laugh. “It wasn’t that big of a game, but the atmosphere at the Bell Centre was still unbelievable and it felt like Superbowl Sunday when we walked in there. I remember thinking then that getting the chance to play in that environment is special. More than anything, I think it’s more the fans and the city that make that place so special.”
While some players shy away from playing in a hockey hotbed like Montreal, Halpern is ready to embrace his new life under the microscope with open arms.
“I’ve played in some of the most southern cities with great weather and great organizations, but I’m a bit of a hockey nerd at heart,” admitted Halpern, who led the Lightning with a 52.8% faceoff efficiency in 2008-09. “I love being around it and I love when people are talking hockey and they’re kind of breathing the sport so the chance to play in that environment is a special thing for me.”
Despite having 720 NHL games and 316 points already under his belt, Halpern knows he’s still somewhat of an unknown commodity to his new fans. But having to prove himself is nothing new for the Princeton University grad.
“I think from Day 1 in the league I’ve always had the attitude like there’s someone trying to get your job and every day you go to the rink, it’s a try out,” emphasized Halpern. “This year, I feel that even more. You always have to prove yourself, especially now with a new team, new teammates and coaches and playing in a hockey savvy city where nothing goes unnoticed.”
The wily veteran isn’t kidding. Having previously worn No. 11 and 22 in the league, he’s even playing it coy when it comes to what number he prefers to see stitched to his new jersey.
“I’m not going to answer that because I don’t want to make a fool out of myself and say something like No. 4 and have everyone tell me it’s Jean Beliveau’s number,” joked Halpern. “I think those numbers are getting pretty high in Montreal so I’ll wait and see what they give me.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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