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One accomplished soldier

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Sergei Gonchar is bringing a wealth of NHL experience and plenty of offensive punch along with him to La Belle Province.

On Tuesday, the Canadiens acquired the 40-year-old Russian rearguard from the Dallas Stars in exchange for left-winger Travis Moen, adding another veteran presence on the blue line alongside the likes of Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin, Tom Gilbert and Mike Weaver.

Gonchar, who had played just three games for Dallas thus far this season due to injury, had registered one assist prior to the transaction, and was averaging 13:01 of ice time per game since returning to active duty and making his regular season debut on Nov. 4.

“When you look at Montreal as a team, you see they’re a group with a lot of good players. They’re playing the game with good puck possession. They’re skating well, and they’re winning games,” offered the 20-year NHL veteran, who addressed the media via a conference call from Phoenix where the Stars were scheduled to battle the Coyotes on Tuesday night. “They’re one of the most recognized franchises in hockey, so I would say when you look at all of that, you want to join that and you want to be a part of it. That’s why it was a no-brainer for me to accept that trade.”

The four-time All-Star should provide the Canadiens’ power play with a much-needed boost. While he hasn’t lit the lamp at a torrid pace in recent years, Gonchar does know what it takes to make things click on the man advantage. Of his 219 career goals, 102 have come when his team has been up a man, and his 798 career points make him the NHL’s active leader among defensemen in that particular category.

“I haven’t played as much lately, but at the same time I can still play and help any team I play for. If my minutes increase, I think I can play more, and I’m ready for it,” stressed Gonchar, who has 1,256 regular season games under his belt during stints with the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, in addition to his one-plus seasons in the Lone Star State. “But, I’m only one piece in a big puzzle. I’m sure every player on that team is going to bring something. Everybody is going to participate and chip in. That’s what I’m going to do when I get there.”

That should be music to head coach Michel Therrien’s ears, who was the four-time Olympian’s bench boss for three-plus years in the Steel City in the mid-to-late 2000s.

“I did play for him. We had a good relationship. We worked together for a few years. I remember Mike as a hard-working guy who prepared very well for every game. He was asking players to do the same,” praised Gonchar, who won his one and only Stanley Cup title with the Penguins in 2009 under Therrien’s replacement, Dan Bylsma. “Our relationship was very good, in my opinion.”

The former 14th overall selection of the Capitals back in 1992 will also have the opportunity to share a locker room with a few countrymen. Markov, and others, will undoubtedly make Gonchar feel right at home upon his arrival in Montreal on Wednesday evening.

“I’ve always liked Andrei. He’s an exceptional player. It will be fun to play with him,” mentioned Gonchar, who has played with the Canadiens’ No. 79 at the Olympics and the World Hockey Championships. “We played together a little bit in international competitions, but now I’ll get to spend more time with him and I’m looking forward to it.”

Needless to say, the talented defenseman can’t wait to get started in his new hockey home.

“If I accepted this trade at 40 years old, it’s because I know I can still help a team. I might be 40, but there are guys in the NHL that have played past 40, too. Look at Selanne, Chelios, Lidstrom and Jagr, who’s still playing,” concluded Gonchar, who registered a career-high 67 points on two occasions over the course of his NHL career. “Forty is a big number, but I know that I can still play.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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