OTTAWA – In Tuesday’s notebook, the Habs hit the ice to play the Canadiens version of America's Pastime, while Andrei Markov leads by example, even away from the rink.
BATTER UP: Currently in the middle of a jam packed stretch of the schedule consisting of 14 games over the 28 days of February, head coach Michel Therrien opted for the lighter side of practice on Tuesday at the Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa. A game of baseball on ice – a mashup invented by Canadiens players several seasons ago – was on the menu, with four teams going head-to-head two at a time on opposite ends of the ice. The batting team would hit the puck out of the air to start the play, earning a point by skating around the makeshift bases before the defensive side could collect it and put it past the goalkeeper.
“The timing was perfect for a practice like today's. We’ve still got a lot of games to play before the month is over and a light practice can be beneficial for things like working on our coordination,” explained Dale Weise, who got to pose at center ice postgame for a commemorative photo with the winning side. “I don’t know if anyone had money on it, but I’m proud of the way we played. We had the best structured team out there. Other guys were joking around or complaining about the rules, but we were all business. It was an excellent draft by Nathan Beaulieu. We had instant chemistry.”
Tasked with being a one of the day’s captains, Beaulieu channeled his inner Billy Beane while forming his soon-to-be championship squad, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each potential teammate with his own version of a pregame scouting report.
“I did my homework on each guy and I’m happy with how everything went. Dan Lacroix wasn’t on my radar at first, but he turned out to be a clutch player,” dished Beaulieu on the only coach who was eligible for the draft, the rest of the staff playing the roles of umpires. “I selected Max Pacioretty first, because our team needed leadership and he told me he had won the two previous editions. Dale Weise was next, because he’s able to score goals from unconventional spots. We also needed another defenseman, so I went with Tom Gilbert, and obviously my picks paid off.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: At 36 years of age, Andrei Markov continues to be among head coach Michel Therrien’s most utilized players night after night. Averaging just over 25 minutes of ice time per game through 56 games this season, the veteran defenseman was absent from practice on Tuesday, benefiting instead from a therapy day off the ice.
“He’s feeling good. He’s a real professional. Even if he didn’t have to skate today, he still came to the arena and spent 30 minutes on the bike, but we need to save his energy,” explained the Habs bench boss. “He’s in great shape. He doesn’t only work hard at practice and during games, but also away from the arena. That’s why he’s still able to play hockey at such a high level today.”
Case in point, Markov has missed just one regular season game since the 2012-13 calendar resumed from that year’s lockout. Which is exactly the type of work ethic the Habs hope will rub off on its next generation of defensive stars.
“Marky has been there for me since the start. I’m always impressed by the way he plays. He doesn’t get hit, he’s always perfectly positioned, and his passing game is amazing from any part of the ice,” praised 2011 Canadiens draft pick Nathan Beaulieu, who has been observing the veteran blue liner during his first full season in Montreal. “It’s tough for someone who doesn’t follow the game to appreciate what he’s able to do on the ice, but he could play 40 minutes a night and not sweat a drop. He’s never offside, his passes are perfect, and he doesn’t create giveaways. He’s a guy we can count on.”
Although Markov’s partner on the blue line has known the Russian star for some time longer than Beaulieu, his opinion is no different, even following six seasons.
“He’s the longest serving player on the team right now and there’s a reason for that,” acknowledged P.K. Subban of the 14-year Canadiens vet. “He’s a pro, he comes to the rink every day to get better and he’s been at the top of the league amongst defensemen for a very long time. He’s going to finish as one of the best this organization has ever seen, in my opinion anyway, once his career is over. I’m very lucky to be playing with him.”