MONTREAL – Living the American dream… or the Canadien dream anyways, is what Raphael Diaz was hoping to achieve in coming to Montreal. Now, that dream is becoming a reality.
Initially getting his crack at the lineup as a result of the numerous injuries that had decimated the Habs’ defensive squad, Diaz quietly worked his way up the ladder, eventually earning himself a place in the Canadiens blueline core. What’s more, is that he did it in only two months.
“To be able to play in the NHL, and for the Montreal Canadiens on top of it, is something that I’m really proud of. I’ve already learned a lot, even in the first 20 games. It’s also an incredible experience to be able to travel and explore each city we play in. It’s all new for me and I’m enjoying it,” said Diaz, who before coming to the NHL was already an eight season veteran of the Swiss Elite League.
“This is an incredible organization. When you arrive at the hotel, there’s already drinks and food waiting for you. Everything’s taken care of. It’s a lot of trips in the end, but they’re all really good trips. Plus, you always have the chance to sleep or relax when you’re on the plane,” explained the 25-year-old.
As it turns out, traveling with the team back in his native Switzerland was a decidedly different experience.
“In Switzerland, we would leave by bus at two o’clock in the afternoon to get to a game we would have to play that same night,” continued Diaz. “Here, we always leave the day before. As players, it gives us a much better opportunity to get ready for the game.”
It would certainly seem that all that preparation time before games, whether on the road or at home, is being made the most of by Diaz, as the young defenseman has to date been exceeding several people’s expectations – including his own.
“First there was camp, then the first game, then all the others that came after it. For a while, I was just doing my best to keep up with the action. Now, I’m a part of it,” expressed Diaz. “I want to help this team and I want us to perform and win. All I care about is making sure I give it my all every practice; every game.”
Proof positive that Diaz is truly a part of Jacques Martin’s squad can be seen in the way he’s readily adopted the traits of a good Montreal defenseman – most notably, in the department of blocked shots. The NHL rookie currently ranks third in blocks among all Canadiens, just behind the Habs’ resident shot-blocking specialists Josh Gorges and Hal Gill. Diaz is not only in the process of making his mark with the Habs, but also with the rest of the league, ranking second among all rookie shot-blockers.
“I do everything I can to always be where the puck is, whether with my stick or with my body. The guys here are so big and they really obscure the goalie’s view. So it’s up to us to get in the way and block the puck. If I can help out in that way, that’s what I want to be doing,” dropped Diaz, while hinting that while the bruises may be a little darker in the NHL, the technique for jumping in front of the puck is always the same. “I think the shots come a bit harder here than in the Swiss League, but one way or another, the trick is always to get in front of the puck, and make sure you’re prepared.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
The Numbers Game - Nov. 26, 2011