MONTREAL – The sight of golf clubs flung over the shoulders of hockey players is usually the sign of the end of a hockey season, but the arrival of the Canadiens' annual golf tournament is another story.
Whether arriving alone or having carpooled their way to the scenic Laval-sur-le-Lac golf club, the Canadiens were greeted by the local media at an event that has come to signify the onset of the countdown to a new NHL season.
It was also the first taste of life in Montreal for a newcomer like Roman Hamrlik, who was unfazed by the snapping cameras and dozens of questions fired his way.
“I spoke to Marty Rucinsky before heading over here and he warned me about you guys,” grinned Hamrlik, about his recent chat with the former Habs winger. “He said I should watch you guys and that you were everywhere!”
Clearly at ease holding court with the media, not even inquiries about how he was planning to replace All-Star Sheldon Souray rattled the Czech defenseman.
“I guess that’s to be expected. I am wearing his No. 44, right?” joked Hamrlik. “To be honest, 44 has always been my favorite number and it was the first one I wore as a rookie in Tampa Bay.”
The 33-year-old is looking forward to helping the Habs’ young blueline along and catching up with a few players he knows pretty well.
“Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev and I have known each other for years and I’m excited to play with them,” added Hamrlik. “Working with young defensemen is something I’m used to having played with Dion Phaneuf in Calgary for the past two seasons.”
Next up for the new guys was scrappy Tom Kostopoulos, who had a trick of his own for the media up his sleeve. The Mississauga native spoke predominantly in French much to the surprise and delight of the motley crew that surrounded him.
“Growing up, my mom always told me that learning French would come in handy one day, and I guess that day is today,” shrugged Kostopoulos. “I had French immersion in school from kindergarten through the sixth grade.”
When he was through hamming it up, the former Kings forward quickly shifted gears to what lied ahead for his new team.
“No matter what’s being said out there, we have as good a chance of being successful as any team in the league,” added Kostopoulos. “It’s up to us to embrace our role as underdogs and take it from there. I think this group has what it takes to prove a lot of people wrong.”
Rounding out the fresh faces making their debut was Bryan Smolinski, who had a mutually beneficial a pep talk with his six-year-old daughter Ashtyn before stuffing his golf bag into his trunk.
“Yeah, it was back to school time for my daughter as well today, and she flat out did not want to go,” explained Smolinski. “I just told her that daddy didn’t want to face media today either, but that I had to go.”
Like his daughter, Smolinski was ultimately in attendance this morning, eager to get the Canadiens’ chapter of his NHL career underway.
“I was lucky enough to get to play at the Forum and I quickly found out that playing here is unlike anywhere else,” recalled Smolinski. “There’s always something special about games in this city and I’m now going to get to experience that every night.”
The fun will begin for Smolinski and his new teammates with the start of training camp on Sept. 14, leading up to the Canadiens’ first preseason tilt against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on Sept. 17 at the Bell Centre. It’s doubtful Smolinski will need any extra motivation from little Ashtyn to get fired up on that night.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com