BROSSARD - The start of a new NHL season brings with it plenty of opportunities.
Four months after the final buzzer sounded following Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Habs will finally have a chance to hit the ice for a game that counts come Wednesday night. For some, the dawn of the regular season is the opportunity to start anew and hit the reset button following a short offseason.
“We feel good as a team. We had a good practice today. It’s fun to see the guys loose and excited for the start of the season, but there are 29 other teams that are also anxious to start the season,” mentioned P.K. Subban following the team’s final practice in Brossard before they hit the ice in Toronto for the season opener. “It’s a fresh start. It’s an opportunity to see progress and have success.”
For others – like the four newest full-time Canadiens on the roster – it’s the opportunity to carve out a permanent place with the big club, while proving management right for keeping them around.
“We’ve never been afraid to start young players in our lineup,” underlined head coach Michel Therrien, after his club’s regular season, 23-man roster was finalized on Tuesday with defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi, forward Jiri Sekac, and goaltender Dustin Tokarski all making the cut. “We’ve always believed that young talent makes for a healthy organization and when we see that our young guys have reached an NHL-level of play, we want to bring them up. It’s a challenge and a process, but we’re aware of that.”
New alternate captain Max Pacioretty can see where his coach is coming from, having gone through the same process in what now seems like an eternity ago.
“They’ll be given a lot more opportunities than last year, and I think that’s going to dictate our team’s success – how they step in and fill those roles,” suggested the 25-year-old forward, who made his Canadiens debut in 2009, scoring his first NHL goal during his first game as a Hab. “It’s a great opportunity for them. I remember when I got mine, I just wanted to take it and run with it. They’re all great kids and they’re all great guys so I’m assuming they’re ready to jump on this opportunity and take advantage of it.”
With an 82-game tabula rasa laid out before them, the Canadiens are even viewing a tough, four-game road trip to open the calendar as a potential opportunity.
“For us, starting with four games on the road is good for team bonding because we’ve got these new guys in our group,” described Therrien, whose troops will follow up Wednesday’s game at the ACC with trips to Washington, Philadelphia and Tampa before finally heading home. “Tomorrow will be a fun game. There’s no better way to start the season than against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s the way we see it.”
The benefits of relationship building on the road aren’t lost on Subban, either, who is looking forward to spending some time gelling with his new teammates back in his hometown.
“It’s always nice to bond. We bond every day, every time we get together we’re learning new things about each other, which is important,” confirmed the Toronto native. “I know there are some new faces here -- guys who are new to professional hockey -- so it’s good, and I don’t think it makes a difference for us whether we start on the road or at home. It’s the same mentality: playing the right way and making sure we’re doing the right things. It’s definitely an exciting time to be here.”
But for some, seeing the yearly crop of fresh faces cracking rosters league-wide also represents an opportunity for reflection just ahead of the embarking on the 82-game grind.
“Someone asked me last night, ‘How long have you been here again?’ and I said it’s my seventh year. It’s so weird to think about that, but this is a sport where people start young,” acknowledged Pacioretty, who was drafted by the Canadiens 22nd overall in 2007.
“[Alex] Galchenyuk started when he was 18 and before he knows it, he’ll be five years into his career in the league and have never shaved his face in his life,” he added with a laugh. “It definitely goes by quickly. It’s already been seven years for me, so now I’m just trying to enjoy every night.”
That begins in Toronto on Wednesday with the team’s customary season-opening date with a longtime rival.
Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com
From the room