MONTREAL - After one more nail-biting victory in front of another sellout crowd, it was your average Tuesday night at the Bell Centre for everyone except Maxim Lapierre.
Lapierre became the latest Canadiens rookie to crack the Montreal lineup this season following in the footsteps of Chris Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Perezhogin, and Yann Danis. In light of the Canadiens recent rash of injuries, the 20-year-old center got called up despite only being 15 games into his rookie season with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.
"I couldn't believe it when I got the news on Monday that I was headed to Montreal," said Lapierre, who logged just over three minutes of ice-time in his NHL debut.
"Once I first got out there, I couldn't feel my legs, they felt like Jello," admitted Lapierre, who wasted little time introducing himself to the NHL. "I just went out there and honestly just tried to hit the first Panther I saw."
Drafted 61st overall in 2003, Lapierre was one of a whopping three members of the QMJHL's Rocket to be chosen by the Canadiens that day along with Cory Urquhart (40th) and tough guy Jimmy Bonneau (241st).
Over his four seasons in junior, Lapierre developed under the watchful eye of a coach that Canadiens fans know well- Alain Vigneault. Montreal's former benchboss helped mould Maxim into a prototypical defensive forward. Considering the free-wheeling offensive QMJHL, Lapierre was certainly kept busy as he tried to blanket the likes of Sidney Crosby on a nightly basis.
"I owe Alain Vigneault so much for where I am today," said Lapierre, who was named captain of the PEI Rocket's prior to last season. "He taught me so much about what it takes to make it to this level and here I am. He had so much faith in me and I was really lucky to have had the chance to play for a coach with Alain's NHL experience."
The skinny 6-foot-1, 174-pounder drafted by Montreal in 2003 looks like he may have been eaten by the current WWE edition of Lapierre who now stands at 6-foot-2 and tips the scales at 205 pounds.
"I've worked really hard to get stronger over the past two seasons and it's really made a difference," said Lapierre. "Getting the chance to train with [Canadiens strength and conditioning coordinator] Scott Livingston this summer did me a lot of good too heading into this season."
Lapierre got off to a running start in his rookie AHL campaign with the Bulldogs, collecting seven points in 15 games before being called up. The St-Leonard native impressed his new coach in his Canadiens debut despite being on the ice for the Panthers first goal of night early in the third period.
"He's a big strong kid who plays with edge to his game and I liked what I saw," said Julien. "He's a gritty player who has worked really hard to get here and he certainly deserves the opportunity he's getting right now."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com