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Denis facing uphill climb to NHL

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Goaltender Marc Denis will begin the 2008-09 season with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but considers

it a neccessary step to returning to the NHL again.
Always keep your eyes wide-open, the better to not get fooled.

It's rule No. 1 for any goalie, usually picked up at about the same time he or she figures out which end of the stick to hold and which end to put on the ice.

More than a decade into his pro career, Marc Denis is still reminding himself of it.

Somewhere far out onto the horizon, he sees a return to the NHL. Much closer to him, blocking out all but the most optimistic rays of hope, are two young stud goalies, Montreal's Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. They are hard to miss, and Denis doesn't even try.

"I know what the situation is. I'm definitely not playing dumb," Denis said. "I don't think anybody is."

The key thing to remember here is that Denis, 30, is still playing, period. The footnote that he's doing it with Hamilton, and perhaps is back in the AHL full-time for the first time in a decade, doesn't flusters him.

Shut out by the NHL market, Denis recently agreed to a two-way deal with Montreal. He should be the clear No. 1 with the Bulldogs, and a reliable option if Price or Halak slumps or gets hurt. But his likely starting spot this year continues something of a humbling mini-slide that began with a 32-game demotion from Tampa Bay to Norfolk last season.

"I honestly thought I had a shot getting a spot back in the NHL. It became evident to me that I'd have to go back to the basics and sign a two-way deal," he said. "If my road back to the NHL means going through Hamilton, I'm ready to do that. Just because I've played 8½ years in the NHL doesn't mean I'm too good to go to the AHL. It is a step back, but it's a step back to go forward."

Denis' sunny-side up has the weight of history behind it. He has played in 348 NHL games, with Colorado, Columbus and Tampa Bay. The number that Montreal might find more valuable when it comes to Denis is 25, as in the slot in the first round where Colorado grabbed him in 1995.

It indicates that Denis once upon a time knew what it was like to face pressure as a young hotshot, much like Price and Halak will now.

"I've been a No. 1 draft pick and labeled the future of a franchise a couple times," he said, referring to Colorado and Columbus. "I understand that big brother figure role might be asked of me. I'm willing to do that as well, if that's what's asked of me."

Fresh start for Locke -- Having done pretty much everything worth doing in a Hamilton sweater, center Corey Locke gets to start from scratch again.

Locke, the franchise's all-time leader in goals (85), assists (144) and points (229), was dealt to the Minnesota organization in return for defenseman Shawn Belle earlier this month.
For someone so associated with one team, it was hardly a shock. Locke, 24, had played in just one career game with the Canadiens and knew he was well out of the organization's plans.

"We both knew it was time to move on. I'm obviously glad it's Minnesota. I can't wait to get a fresh start," Locke said. "If a team trades for you, you hope they are doing it for a reason. They are a team that wanted me. That's what you want to think."

Author: Lindsay Kramer | Correspondent

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