Two minutes to midnight
BROSSARD – With time running out in preseason, the pressure to make an impression and stick around is being felt in the Habs locker room.
Those players suiting up on Wednesday night against Ottawa shared the ice for a short, up-tempo practice just before boarding the team bus for the Canadian Tire Centre.
While established players like Lars Eller will look to write a new chapter in the growing rivalry between the two teams, several of his teammates are simply interested in carving out a role for themselves with the squad.
Martin St-Pierre, the 30-year-old centerman who has impressed at camp with his speed and vision, will be returning to an old stomping ground, having played three regular season games for the Senators back in 2009-10. For the well-traveled minor league veteran, playing NHL hockey is a treat, but nothing can top the feeling of wearing the jersey sported by his childhood idols.
“The chance to take part in a home game with the Senators was great. But, I really can’t ask for anything better than to wear the Canadiens jersey. It’s a childhood dream come true. I think I’ve done a good job at putting the odds on my side this training camp, in terms of showing what I can do. I might be 30 years old, but I feel like I’m 22 or 23 in terms of my energy on the ice,” insisted St-Pierre.
Elsewhere, it will be an almost completely foreign experience for Swedish defenseman Magnus Nygren, who came into camp having only played on an NHL-sized rink on two occasions.
“I’m getting more comfortable playing on [the NHL-sized rink] every shift. Of course, I felt better now than when I first arrived in camp. The game is faster [on the small ice] and it feels like the players are quicker and stronger here, because you have less time to react,” explained the Karlstad native.
Nygren has shown solid skating and passing skills in three preseason games played so far, but has yet to hit pay dirt with his slap shot, one of the most feared in the Swedish Elite League.
“Training camp ends [on Thursday], and nobody knows anything yet [in terms of the final roster]. Still, you have a feeling inside yourself [of what to expect], and of course I feel like I need to do something great [against the Senators],” confessed Nygren.
“This could be my last chance to make a good impression on the coaching staff. I’m really looking forward to playing this match. The first game is certainly stressful because you don’t know what to expect. After a few more, you kind of settle in and get used to the speed. There’s always a pressure to perform. It’s part of the sport. I don’t really see it as a negative thing,” mentioned Dietz.
Fellow defensive prospect Nathan Beaulieu will be even more hard-pressed to deliver a commendable performance Wednesday night given that the he has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since the first day of main camp. He was given the green light early in the week after an agonizingly stint on the sidelines.
“I got the news that I’m good to go. It’s exciting to finally play a preseason game. I barely had any sleep last night. It’s important to get out there; there’s not much time left to make an impression,” acknowledged the Habs’ first-round pick in 2011.
Seeing a few angst-ridden faces in the locker room brings back a lot memories for Francis Bouillon, who broke into the league during the last millennium.
“The first game is always special. I remember being with [former teammate] Dave Morrissette, sitting on the bench and thinking it’s the most memorable thing. The first game kind of breaks the ice and it gets easier from then on,” recalled Bouillon, who first suited up for the Canadiens during the 1999-00 season.
Fifteen years later, Bouillon is happy to play the role of guide and mentor to the Canadiens’ young guns.
“If a kid gets cut on Thursday, he can still be proud to have been part of the camp until this point. This is was I was saying to [Michael] Bournival this morning. Every preseason game you can get into is a plus. It’s all positive,” suggested Bouillon.