BROSSARD – To his teammates, the fans and the media, what Brandon Prust has brought to the Habs’ lineup hasn’t gone unnoticed this season.
When the Habs made Prust their big free agent acquisition on July 1, few could have anticipated how big an impact the 29-year-old was going to have in his new hockey home. Except maybe Michel Therrien, who made the trip to London, ON in person, Habs jersey in hand, trying and woo the gritty winger into signing with Montreal.
“No, [he hasn’t surprised me] because that’s why we went and got him,” mentioned the Habs head coach of the 2012-13 Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner. “He brings a lot of leadership and he’s a gamer. When 7:00 p.m. rolls around and the national anthems start, you see him turn it on.
“I don’t always agree with you guys, but I agree with you on this one,” added Therrien with a chuckle, referring to the media’s decision to honor Prust with the annual award given to the Canadiens’ unsung hero. “He’s a guy who brings a lot to the team. He’s a leader, he’s a guy who will sacrifice for his teammates, he’ll block shots; he does a lot of things that don’t always end up on the scoresheet.”
Cast in the same mold as the team’s previous Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy winner, Josh Gorges, Prust arrived in Montreal exactly as advertised. While he’s upped his offensive productivity, enjoying the highest points-per game average of his career to date, he’s still managed to be one of the league’s busiest fighters, one of just eight players to drop the gloves 10 or more times this year. Tied for first on the team with a plus-11 differential, Prust is also second behind Alexei Emelin with 78 hits in 34 games.
“[The media] respect the details and the little qualities of games,” explained Gorges, a two-time Beauchamp Trophy winner himself, on the merits of Prust’s win. “You can’t have 20 goal scorers to go out there and win a hockey game. You need to have some sandpaper; you need to have guys who will kill penalties and block shots and Prusty is all of that. That’s what he does for us. He’s been a huge lift for our team.”
Facing the same members of the media who scrawled his name at the top of their ballots in his first year as a Hab, Prust was already campaigning for another nod in 2013-14.
“Do I have to take you guys all out for dinner,” he asked with a laugh. “It definitely feels good. That’s kind of the easy part of the game for me; go out and work your butt off. That’s what got me here. I knew coming in that everybody in Montreal would appreciate that. It’s easier for me to come in here than maybe a guy that’s expected to get 50 goals. I just come in and do my work and it’s good to see it’s appreciated.”
Joining a list of fellow formerly unsung heroes that includes current Habs Gorges and Francis Bouillon, Prust has hardly flown under the radar this year. Between the Bell Centre fans, the coaching staff and the guys sitting next to him in the Habs dressing room, there’s no shortage of people ready to praise what the veteran forward brings to the table.
“He’s not [unsung] in this room. Everyone appreciates what Prusty does for this team,” confirmed Brendan Gallagher, who played his first NHL shifts alongside Prust in January. “You can put him in any situation and he can do anything for the team. We use that every night and we appreciate it; no matter what he’s asked to do, he’s going to go out and do it and he’s going to do a good job.”
A key factor in the Canadiens’ quick surge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to the top one year later, Prust isn’t interested in taking credit for the team’s Cinderella season.
“I took a look at some of the past winners and it’s definitely an honor to be part of that group, but there are a lot of guys on this team that could’ve won that award,” he stressed. “There have been a lot of surprises this year and guys who are stepping up at key times. I think we have a team full of unsung heroes. That’s what’s made us successful.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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