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Familiar faces

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – The world of professional hockey can be a small one. Just ask Habs hopeful Jiri Sekac, who arrived at his first full NHL training camp this week from the KHL to a familiar face in the Canadiens locker room.

While his road to the NHL so far has included stops in the U.S., Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic, these days the 22-year-old left winger finds himself reunited with a veteran Czech countryman, flanking Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec on the Bell Sports Complex ice in Brossard, some 6,000 kilometers away from the pair’s native Kladno.

And with 64 players at camp all vying for spots on the Habs’ 2014-15 roster, Sekac is thrilled to have an ally on his side to give him an edge over the competition, especially after arriving from the KHL, where larger ice surfaces have left the rising Czech star with some tweaks to make to his game.

“It’s always good to have someone who’s a little closer to you around and [Tomas] helps me big time,” admitted the six-foot-two, 195-pounder who signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Habs over the summer. “I’m pretty happy that I get to play on a line with him and I’m really enjoying the game so far.”

Fortunately for the Habs newcomer, Plekanec has also been happy to don a new role this year in addition to his duties as the team’s alternate captain: that of the big brother.

“He helps me out in pretty much every way,” offered Sekac after playing on the same line as Plekanec and fellow newcomer Sven Andrighetto for a second-consecutive day at training camp. “He’s showing me places around Montreal. He helps me out in the locker room if I don’t know what to do. He's just here for me. It’s good to have him here.”

The feeling is mutual.

“It’s fun to play with him,” confirmed Plekanec of his newest linemate, three days into camp. “He’s a great player. He’s a great skater, he’s strong with the puck and he’s got pretty good hockey sense. I think he’s ready to go. Hopefully he’ll play some good preseason games and show what he can do. It obviously depends on management and what their plan is, but as a player, I think we can see he’s pretty much ready. He knows what he’s doing out there and he’s an asset that we need on our team.”

It’s glowing testimonies like those from a six-time 20-plus NHL goal scorer that show why it was no wonder NHL teams were lining up to bid for Sekac’s services over the offseason, but Plekanec insists that he played no role in the three-year KHL pro’s decision making process.

So when exactly, did the two first get back in touch?

“After he signed,” laughed the 10-year Canadiens vet. “[That’s when] we talked about the team and how things work out here. I could feel that he really wanted to be here and he loved what he saw over the summer. He’s excited to play for the Canadiens.”

Having played in Europe himself early in his pro career, Plekanec is confident any possible issues surrounding the more intimate North American ice surface will be a non-issue for his young apprentice.

“I think he played here in Junior, so it’s not going to be such a big challenge for him. He knows what he’s got to do.”

But if ever he doesn’t, you can bet Sekac will have a willing leader waiting to show him the way.

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com.

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