LAVAL - Like for school kids everywhere, this week also marks a return to action for the Canadiens, beginning with the team's annual golf tournament. With players pulling up in sports cars and SUVs rather than a crowded yellow school bus, a recovering Saku Koivu was in attendance for the first day of class.
The Canadiens' captain, still working his way back from an eye injury suffered against the Hurricanes in the opening round of the playoffs, is eager to put his surgically-repaired left eye to the test with the regular season now less than one month away.
"It's taken a little time, but I really do feel much better," said Koivu upon his arrival at the Laval-sur-le-Lac golf course. "Hockey-wise, I've been working really hard on the ice since the end of July and it's been going well.
"I'm still experiencing some problems with my peripheral vision, but as far as day-to-day stuff is concerned, I feel fine," said Koivu. "I did, after all, drive here this morning but the real test will be when I'm back on the ice in a game situation."
No one was happier to see a smiling Koivu in attendance than general manager Bob Gainey, who preached patience concerning his captain's return to action.
"Following this type of serious injury, there is always a bridge that must be crossed before returning to competition," explained Gainey. "There's certainly a difference between skating and actual game-type situations.
"Saku has been working out with his former team in Finland and once he is back on the ice with us at training camp, we will all have a much better idea of where we're at."
Also counting the days before the start of training camp is Guy Carbonneau, who admitted to having Sept. 14 circled on his calendar for some time now.
"I've been waiting for this for over four months since the season ended," said Carbonneau. "This is a great chance for all of us to get together. I'm looking forward to getting started and picking up where we left off in the spring."
New Hab Mike Johnson had a surprise in store for the Montreal media.
While the regular season can't come soon enough for the new Canadiens bench boss, Carbonneau still expects a few butterflies before then.
"There is a certain nervousness there," revealed Carbonneau. "That first game, first team meeting, my first speech, will all be things that will be new to me, but once it's behind me I'm sure everything will be fine."
The Canadiens boasted almost a perfect attendance record on this first step leading up to the 2006-07 season with only three players unable to make the early morning roll call on the greens. Despite still being unable to tee-off himself, injured Francis Bouillon was expected to join in on the festivities in time for dinner along with non-golfer Tomas Plekanec, who still needs a few lessons or viewings of Happy Gilmore and Caddyshack before daring to attempt his first 18 holes.
The heavily-anticipated arrival of free-agent signing Sergei Samsonov will also have to wait, with the speedy Russian being slowed by some paperwork concerning his visa. Samsonov is expected to be in Montreal in time for training camp.
Fellow newcomer Mike Johnson, however, did acquaint himself with his new NHL home. The 10-year veteran is looking forward to making the adaptation from the obscurity of Phoenix to a hockey hotbed like Montreal.
"I'm really excited to play somewhere where hockey is all that really matters," said Johnson. "This is a young and talented team and I'm looking forward to a fresh start and a new challenge."
One challenge that won't be daunting for Johnson will be his settling into his new bilingual environment.
"I've had a few French roommates over the years and I've managed to pick some French up along way," said Johnson, who bunked with the likes of Daniel Briere and Denis Gauthier while with the Coyotes. "Just as long as you guys know that you can't talk about me behind my back thinking that I don't understand, because I do!"
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com