BROSSARD - It's no secret that Nick Cousins and Max Domi are good buddies, but that wasn't always the case.
Cousins says the two had quite a heated on-ice rivalry whenever their respective OHL clubs would clash during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He was a veteran standout with the Soo Greyhounds, while Domi was lighting it up with the London Knights.
"It's funny, me and Max, we actually didn't get along in Junior. We'd always go at it pretty good. He was probably one of the best players in the League at the time. I just tried to throw him off his game when we played London," mentioned Cousins, following Saturday's on-ice session at the Bell Sports Complex. "I'm sure he'd be the first person to tell you that we didn't get along."
Cousins was exactly right, as Domi jokingly explained just how contentious things were at one point in time.
"I wanted to actually kill him a lot of the time," cracked Domi with a smile. "He plays hard and he knows how to get under the skin of other players."
But the bad blood between Cousins and Domi was quashed a while back, and that apparent feud really is a distant memory.
"When I got traded to Arizona [in June 2017], Max was the first person to text me and welcome me to the team. Same sort of thing when I signed with Montreal. He was one of the first people to text me and welcome me to the team again," said Cousins, who inked a one-year contract with the Canadiens in early July. "It's funny how it works. We kind of put our differences aside, and now we're pretty good friends."
Admittedly, Domi is a big fan of Cousins' skill set.
He says the five-year NHL veteran brings a relentless work ethic to the CH and some key off-ice intangibles as well.
"I've played with Cousy, and he brings a lot to the table. He's a guy that practices hard and plays hard. He's an unbelievable locker room guy, a glue guy for this group. He keeps everyone together. He's absolutely hilarious, and he's got a lot of skill, too," explained Domi. "He can play literally throughout your entire lineup. I'm really confident that he's going to be a huge boost to our team this year, and we're very lucky to have him."
Through two days of training camp skates on the South Shore, the 26-year-old forward has been featured at left-wing on a line with Nate Thompson at center and Dale Weise on the right side.
Coming off a career-high 20-assist and 27-point season in 81 outings with the Coyotes, Cousins is hoping to see another uptick in his production this year.
"The offense has always been there, in Junior and in the American Hockey League. I think it just comes down to opportunity, and then bearing down on your chances - when you get the puck, make good plays and smart plays," said Cousins, who boasts 31 goals and 73 points in 259 NHL games with Arizona and Philadelphia. "There are times last year when I could've scored and I missed, or the goalie made a save. It's just a matter of bearing down on your chances and taking advantage of the opportunity when it comes."
During his post-practice press conference, head coach Claude Julien compared Cousins' game to that of a former fan favorite in Montreal.
"We see a bit of Andrew Shaw in him, a guy who can get his nose dirty," indicated Julien.
Coincidentally, Cousins and Shaw are both Belleville, ON natives and train together during the summers in their hometown.
As for the comparison, Cousins gave it a resounding thumbs up.
"I think we sort of bring the same style of play. Hopefully I can bring what he brought to the team," said Cousins, who registered career-highs in average ice time per game (13:33), shots on goal (144), faceoff win percentage (46.7), blocked shots (51) and takeaways (39) during the 2018-19 campaign.
The first step in that process will be impressing the Habs' brass in the coming weeks, of course, and solidifying his spot on the roster.
And he plans on putting his top assets on display throughout the preseason.
"If you can play on any line on any given night, it's a credit to you. I think I can play all three forward positions. I'm sort of a versatile guy," explained Cousins. "I'm just a solid two-way player, I'm a good teammate, and I'll do anything to help the team win."