“It felt good to play that first one, but unfortunately we lost the game,” described winger Aaron Palushaj, who got his first taste of life in the NHL alongside Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. “I thought I played pretty well, moving my feet and making plays with my two linemates. It was fun. Cammy and I were talking about it after – we could’ve popped a few goals in there.
“It was encouraging for sure. Playing with Cammy and Pleky made the game so much easier,” admitted the 21-year-old rookie. “Everything was so head’s up, they’re always in the right position and we battled hard for each other so it was fun. It was very exciting coming out there and seeing that many fans and how loud it was even in the preseason.”
While Palushaj had fellow former Michigan Wolverine Cammalleri by his side to give him advice in his Habs debut, 2010 first round draft pick Jarred Tinordi preferred to learn by committee in his inaugural game.
“Guys just told me to keep it simple, play my style and the hockey took care of itself. Hal [Gill] gave me a few pointers, [Josh] Gorges gave me a few pointers; everyone’s been really good with helping me out,” offered Tinordi, who finished behind only Gorges and Jaroslav Spacek in ice time with 20:38 against the Bruins. “It felt good. I felt comfortable with the pace of play. I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit nervous early on, but I got a few shifts under me and settled down.”
This time last year, 19-year-old forward Gabriel Dumont was suiting up for the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the QMJHL. After joining the Bulldogs for 11 postseason games last spring, the Ville Degelis native made an even bigger jump on Wednesday night.
“It was really fast. There was a huge difference between the AHL last year and this,” confessed Dumont. “I think games like this let you see how you’re doing with your development and what you have to get better at to be here on a consistent basis. Even if it was just an exhibition game, I still played with NHL players and got into it. It was a big step for me in my career.”
The other homegrown talent taking his first strides in the NHL, 2009 first round pick Louis Leblanc fired three shots on goal, threw two hits and went six-for-eight in the faceoff circle in his big league debut.
“The first period was a good learning experience for me. I had to shake off the nerves and the butterflies a little bit,” explained Leblanc. “The second period was a little better. We got it going offensively a little more than we did in the first. I felt good out there.”
While the spotlight was clearly glaring a little stronger on the Montreal native before the game, he turned to another first rounder for some helpful hints on dealing with the pressure.
“Before the game, Coach Muller told me to just enjoy the experience,” offered Leblanc on the words of wisdom he picked up from the 1984 second-overall draft pick. “It’s my hometown and it’s the Bell Centre and he said to just have fun with it and learn from it. You’re going to make good plays and you’re going to make bad plays every night and you have to build from it.”
With the first of six preseason games now under their belts, the Habs will look to do exactly that in Game 2 against the Ottawa Senators this Friday night.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game
It's your call