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Inspirational leader

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – When the Canadiens signed Brandon Prust last summer, they were looking to add another dimension to the team. He ended up bringing a lot more than that to the lineup.

After making a name for himself as one of the NHL’s toughest customers over the past few years with the Rangers, Prust spent the 2012-13 season making an impact on the ice in more ways than one. Proving there’s more to his game than a pair of fists with every shift he played, the 29-year-old appreciated his first year as a Hab more than he has any other season of his career to date.

“I had a lot of fun. It was a year I’ll always remember,” admitted Prust, who finished the shortened campaign with five goals and 14 points. “I think we did some great things here. I made a lot of friends here in my first season and I’m looking forward to the future.”

Unwilling to back down from anyone, Prust turned out to be a prize offseason acquisition for the Habs, who have been dealing with the same questions about the team’s size and toughness for years. The gritty winger wasted little time making his presence felt with his new team, taking advantage of his Habs debut by dropping the gloves in the home opener, earning instant fan favorite status in the process.

While the Canadiens still aren’t the most physically imposing team in the NHL, Prust’s presence in the lineup helped his teammates feel a little bigger on the ice, providing an example of courage and compete level throughout the campaign.

“We showed we can battle just as hard as some of those bigger teams. We took it to a lot of teams all year,” offered Prust, whose 10 fights ranked him sixth in the league in that category this year. “We battled and we were physical. I don’t think we really got out-muscled that much. We dominated a lot of those games.

“Even though we might have some small guys, we’ve got some big hearts. There are areas where you can get better and being bigger isn’t a bad thing. You can always use some size, but it’s a new game out there,” continued the 2012-13 Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner, given annually to the team’s unsung hero. “You see Gally [Brendan Gallagher] out there and Gio [Brian Gionta] and these guys are pretty small in stature but they battle their butts off.”

Speaking of the 2013 Calder Trophy nominee, Prust’s first order of business after arriving in Montreal was taking rookie forwards Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk under his wing as part of the big brother role he played for the Habs rookies this year. Enjoying instant chemistry with the budding young superstars, the five-year NHL veteran enjoyed being part of their transition to the big leagues from their first day with the big club.

“They’re great players and they’ve been a big key to our success this year. They came in and brought some skill and speed and energy,” shared Prust, who scored his first goal of the campaign the same night Gallagher scored his first career NHL goal, on Jan. 27. “They’re fun to watch and they’re fun to play with. I think they grew a lot this year. They battled hard and played great for us all season.”

Primed to enjoy some hard-earned rest after suffering a string of injuries late in the year, Prust is looking forward to recharging over the offseason and returning ready to help the Habs surpass expectations for a second-straight season. The veteran leader knows finishing second in the East in 2012-13 was just foreshadowing of what’s to come.

“I’m really optimistic about next year. With the things we did this year, we set the bar high,” he stressed. “We took some big steps this year and we proved to each other in here and to everyone else that we’ve got a great squad. The future is bright.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Shauna Denis.

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