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Halak ready for the challenge

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Slovakian goaltender could make his debut this weekend

Jaroslav Halak attracted attention during the Canadiens' training camp in the fall.

MONTREAL - Slovakian goaltenders haven't exactly been breaking down the doors to the NHL.  Called up from the Hamilton Bulldogs on Thursday, Jaroslav Halak could his open the door as early as this weekend.

While it remains to be seen how long Cristobal Huet will be out with a left hamstring injury suffered Wednesday, Halak isn't just in Montreal as an observer.

"I don't know much about him but [Hamilton Bulldogs head coach] Don Lever has told me good things about him," said head coach Guy Carbonneau.  "He's not here as a tourist, that's for sure.  If he doesn't play tomorrow [Saturday], then most likely on Sunday."

Even if he's only played in 41 Bulldogs games since February 2006, Halak has still found the time to add his name to the franchise record books with nine shutouts.

His call-up didn't surprise Maxim Lapierre, who witnessed firsthand what the Canadiens' No. 41 is all about during his time in Steeltown.

"He looks big in the net," noted Lapierre, who was fortunate or unfortunate enough to face Halak during the goalie's junior days with the Lewiston MAINEiacs.  "He was really good when I was in Hamilton earlier this season and last year.  He's a big part of the Bulldogs' success this season."

Halak took his first step towards an NHL debut Friday morning when he took to the ice at the Denis Savard Arena for his first Canadiens practice since training camp.

"I'm really happy to be here and to have been called up," said the smiling 21-year-old.  "I felt really good out there.  NHL players have the best and hardest shots and shoot more on the corners.  That's harder to stop but I'll get used to it."

While Halak isn't sure when he'll make his NHL debut, should it come this weekend he'll have some help in front of him as the Canadiens' clinic is relieved of a patient.  Mike Johnson, who missed the last two games with the flu, is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday.  Alex Kovalev skated on his own Friday and should be back in three weeks while Craig Rivet, who's been out with pneumonia, is waiting for test results before he can lace up his skates and start practicing again.

Heather Engel is a writer for

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