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Habs gear up for start of camp

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Canadiens hit the gym in preparation for first on-ice session on Friday

Saku Koivu and Steve Begin catch up while on the bikes Thursday.

MONTREAL - The Bell Centre was buzzing Thursday morning, with the Canadiens checking in for their physicals as they officially kicked off their training camp.

After reuniting at the golf tournament earlier this month, the team finally got the chance to settle back into their stalls in the dressing room, while free-agent signing Sergei Samsonov made his Montreal debut.

Having just recently landed in his new NHL home, Samsonov got his first taste of life with the Canadiens when he was swarmed by media itching to get their first look at the 5-foot-8, Russian winger and he didn't disappoint.

"I certainly wasn't brought here for my size!" smiled Samsonov, drawing chuckles from surrounding reporters and cameramen.

The reason Bob Gainey did bring Samsonov to Montreal is of course his speed. Winner of the Calder Trophy in 1998, the longtime Bruins forward joined the Oilers at the trade deadline just in time for Edmonton's surprising playoff run last season, where Samsonov came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.

With his explosive quickness and nose for the net being tailor-made for the new NHL, Samsonov is expected to add firepower to the lineup alongside fellow countryman Alex Kovalev.

Also on hand at the Bell Centre were a few dozen Habs hopefuls bent on turning enough heads in the coming weeks in order to stick with the big club. With much of the pre-training camp buzz surrounding which forward among Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Chipchura, Mikhail Grabovski and others stands the best chance of making the cut, Gainey took the time to address the vacancy sign currently hanging over his blue line.

"Whenever an opportunity like this comes up where a position becomes available, it is always important to first look within the organization so that our young players know that they can one day graduate to the next level," said Gainey, when pressed for his planned solution to the hole in the lineup left by Francis Bouillon, who is still recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee. "If I was in their shoes and I had proven that my game had evolved, I would expect to at least have a shot at making the team. If these kids aren't given a chance, where are they going to find their motivation to improve and develop?"

The Canadiens will hit the ice for the first time on Friday morning at the Sportsplexe 4-Glaces in Pierrefonds.

Manny Almela is a writer for

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