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Proving ground

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – When Pierre Gauthier signed Josh Gorges to a one-year contract on Friday, he locked up a lot more than just another defenseman.

A heart and soul player who would do anything for his teammates, Gorges made no secret of his desire to stay in Montreal when he became a restricted free agent this summer. The only thing that would have made the 26-year-old blue-liner happier than signing on for another season with the Habs would be the guarantee of calling Montreal home for years to come.

A true warrior
“I don’t want to say that I’m not happy with the way things are because I’m extremely happy with the fact that I got a great deal done and I get to come back and play for Montreal,” explained Gorges via conference call from his home in Kelowna, BC. “But I wanted to sign long term – I want to be in Montreal, I want to play in Montreal and I want to win a Cup in Montreal.

“The biggest thing was never about money or anything like that, it was more about the length of the contract,” he added. “We were trying to fight to get a few more years on the table, but I’m happy we were able to avoid arbitration because I think both sides didn’t want to go to arbitration and I’ve said that from the start. I don’t think that’s a good way to do business so I’m glad we could avoid that and get the deal done just between two sides. This is an opportunity for me to have a big year and for the team to have a big year and we’ll go from there.”

Having missed the second half of last season after undergoing ACL reconstruction surgery in December, Gorges understands the team’s decision to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to his performance with his new ligament.

“It took me a little while but I finally understood where they were coming from with the fact that I just came back from a major knee surgery and there were a lot of things that needed to be fixed,” offered Gorges, who had been playing with the torn ACL for the past seven years before finally going under the knife. “From the team’s standpoint and from a business standpoint they wanted to make sure that my knee was at 100% and that I was at the level I was playing at before the injury  – if not better –  before they committed long term.”

Coming back better than ever shouldn’t be a problem for Gorges, who previously held the team’s Iron Man streak after appearing in 150 consecutive games in his five seasons with the Canadiens. Having spent the last four months on the ice perfecting his stride and in the gym getting ready for a seventh NHL campaign, the veteran defenseman has never felt better.

“My knee feels great,” he stressed. “It’s been a long road, but I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been to the point where my trainer here has actually told us to pull back on some of the weights and work on a little more footwork, agility and on-ice stuff trying to perfect that.

“It’s kind of been my MO coming out of Junior having to prove myself each year and this year is no different,” continued Gorges, who has developed into a premier shut-down defenseman despite being undrafted and overlooked by all 30 NHL teams just eight years ago. “I just have to show up to camp in the best shape possible and have a good start and we’ll go from there.”

Already itching for the puck to drop on the 2011-12 season, Gorges knows he’s not the only one who will be out to prove something come September.

“We have a great core group of guys who want to win for the Montreal Canadiens, but we also want to win for each other,” he shared. “When you have a room as tight as we do and guys who want to that for each other, that’s going to push us to new heights that I don’t think we’ve seen to this point – and we’re just going to keep getting better as we go.”

Shauna Denis is a writer for

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