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Phoenix rising

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Everyone loves a guy who can rise from the ashes, which explains the love Max Pacioretty is getting these days.

After splitting his first two pro seasons shuttling between Montreal and Hamilton, Pacioretty had finally hit his stride in 2010-11 before his season was abruptly cut short by Zdeno Chara last March.

With his fractured vertebrae and concussion finally behind him to start the 2011-12 campaign, the 23-year-old power forward exploded out of the gate and hasn’t slowed down since. His one-game-at-a-time mentality helped spur his breakout production this year and he’s planning to carry that attitude through to his fifth NHL season.

“I had some goals in mind coming into the season but at the back of my mind. I just wanted to do whatever I could to get better every game,” explained Pacioretty, who set career highs across the board with 33 goals and 32 assists this year. “I started to raise the bar more and more as the season went on and then it got to the point where I just wanted to improve every game and every shift. I think that’s where I find my success when I look at things that way.”

If Pacioretty’s goal was to get better every time he touched the ice, mission accomplished. Finishing fourth in the league with 29 even strength goals, he also maintained a point-per-game pace through the final two months of the season, registering an impressive 19 points in 18 games.

“During the year, I tried not to think about [my performance] but as soon as that last game ended, it was kind of surreal for me. I opened up my phone and saw all the messages I’d gotten from my family and friends and it was a great feeling,” shared Pacioretty, who became the 16th player in franchise history to enjoy a 30-plus goal season before celebrating his 24th birthday.

While he won’t be suiting up for any playoff games this spring, the New Canaan, CT native isn’t ready to start his offseason training just yet, set to spend the next month vying for gold at the World Hockey Championships in Sweden and Finland this May.

“I can hardly wait to put on the skates again and get out there for Worlds,” shared Pacioretty, who will don the stars and stripes for the first time since representing the United States at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships. “Obviously it’s not the first choice where I want to be playing hockey in May but any chance you get to represent your country and play a little more hockey, it’s always an honor.”

Already locked in for next season after signing a two-year deal last June, the team’s leading scorer with 65 points in 2011-12 sees a bright future ahead for both himself and his teammates in Montreal.

“We have a really good core group of guys and we’re not that far from competing. It might not look like it this year but we did have to battle a lot of adversity and injuries,” shared Pacioretty who made up one-third of the team’s top line all season long.

The rugged winger will also look to carry over the chemistry he’s built with on-ice wingmen Erik Cole and David Desharnais, who combined to score 40.6% of the Canadiens’ goals this year.

“We just need to add bits and pieces to the equation and we’ll find our success,” he promised, already looking ahead to next year’s season opener.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Shauna Denis.

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