Massive rookie Raitis Ivanans landed the unofficial role of enforcer with Montreal, filling the shoes filled by Darren Langdon in 2003-04.
MONTREAL - Canadiens training camp began with Bob Gainey announcing that there were spots to be won. Three weeks later, the GM held true to that promise as he unveiled the 2005-06 edition of his roster.
The two final cuts at Montreal's training camp came on Monday morning and Chris Higgins, Alexander Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec, Raitis Ivanans and Mark Streit all made it through. Ron Hainsey and Peter Vandermeer weren't so lucky.
"We made it clear that we had room on our roster when training camp began," said Gainey after announcing who had made the team. "Our young players really stepped up and made our decisions that much more difficult. We feel this is a quick team with a good balance of youth and experience that will be competitive every night."
Ivanans, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound behemoth, was all smiles after making the team, making history as the heaviest of any heavyweight to ever squeeze into a Canadiens jersey.
"I'm just thrilled to be staying," he said.
Though appearances would suggest Ivanans is likely to emerge as the team's enforcer, the native of Latvia noted he'll also be happy to double as a Russian translator when needed.
"I did it in Hamilton all of last year for Andrei Kostitsyn, so I don't mind that at all," he grinned. "As long as I'm here, it's ok with me. But Perezhogin's English is coming along pretty well, so I'm not sure how much translating he'll really need."
Streit, who came all the way from Switzerland to take part in his first NHL training camp after being drafted 262nd overall last summer as a 26-year-old, was given the nod on Monday over former Canadiens top pick Hainsey, taken 13th overall back in 2000.
"The adjustment hasn't been easy, but knowing that the team has enough confidence in me to keep me here feels really good," said Streit, whose experience with the two-line pass in Europe and up-tempo style should come in handy in the new NHL. "Mike Ribeiro came in and told me congratulations before I had even heard anything yet, so I was pretty relaxed when the official announcement was finally made."
When asked if his name had been pronounced properly since he's been in Montreal, Streit sounded like a guy who had just won the lottery.
"You guys can call me whatever you want as long as I'm here," he said happily. "I'm just glad to be getting this opportunity."
A front-runner throughout this year's camp, Higgins might not have been surprised by the news, but he still could hardly contain his excitement about getting the official word.
"I thought I was on the right track so no, this morning's announcement wasn't a big shock, but until you hear those words you really never know," said Higgins, Montreal's 14th overall pick in 2002. "I'm just really looking forward to getting the season started and proving that I belong here."
Higgins did breathe a sigh of relief when reminded that with the Canadiens welcoming a total of six fresh faces to the roster, the bill for this season's annual rookie dinner should be a little easier to swallow.
"I didn't think about that," he laughed, considering the split likely to occur on the bill also footed by Plekanec, Perezhogin, Ivanans, Streit and back-up goalie Yann Danis. "It should definitely be a little easier on the wallet."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.