MONTREAL – 2011-12 was literally a season full of ups and downs for Aaron Palushaj.
Called up on Oct. 10; assigned to Hamilton on Oct. 23. Recalled on Oct. 25; sent back down four days later. Six times the 22-year-old rookie saw the familiar 514 area code show up on his phone only to find himself back on a flight to the Steel City within a week or two. After spending the past season shuttling back and forth between Montreal and Hamilton, Palushaj has mastered the art of packing light.
Few members of the Canadiens racked up as many air miles as the speedy forward this year, but it wasn’t just the constant change of scenery that made it hard for Palushaj to find his groove in Montreal. A point-per-game star in the minors, the Livonia, MI native finished third among all Bulldogs players despite suiting up for just 35 of the team’s 76 games this year. A far cry from the role the versatile sniper was asked to play in the big leagues.
“That’s just our job as a fourth line,” shared Palushaj of seeing his ice time limited to single digits in all but five games with the Habs this year. “You never know when you’ll get in there and get the call and you have to make sure you’re ready, no matter when it happens, to go out and create some energy.”
Palushaj made the most of the minutes he got this year, scoring his first career NHL goal on Mar. 17 despite playing just 3:36 against the Islanders that evening. All part of a night’s work for a prospect looking to finally earn his one-way ticket to Montreal next year.
“Just to be one of the guys who brings energy to the lineup is really important for me and when I get chances either to score or set some guys up I like to take advantage of those,” shared Palushaj, who finished the campaign with five points in 38 games. “I’m a bit of a puck hound, so I like to track the puck in the offensive zone and bring that intensity.”
Paying his dues hasn’t been easy for the former University of Michigan standout, but he knows he’s not the only one who’s had to take the scenic route to the Habs dressing room.
“It’s tough, but it’s just a young NHL player working his way through the American hockey league and working his way up. A lot of people have to go through it,” offered Palushaj, who can look to fellow Bulldogs alumni Tomas Plekanec, Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban for inspiration. “It’s been a whirlwind season for me. I just had to keep trying to improve and get better every practice and every game whether I was here or in Hamilton.”
If everything goes according to plan, Palushaj’s next big move will be into his first apartment in Montreal next year.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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