MONTREAL -- While they may not have been in their equipment just yet, the Canadiens had the Bell Centre abuzz on Tuesday with their long-awaited return home.
With over 40 players moving about the Bell Centre for physicals and photos, team personnel and media members got their first look at what will eventually emerge as the 2005-06 edition of the Canadiens.
For the many new arrivals the likes of Radek Bonk, Mathieu Dandenault and the slew of prospects, Tuesday marked a first opportunity to meet teammates and much of the Montreal media.
Even familiar faces weren't all that familiar, starting with the newly re-signed Michael Ryder. The 2003-04 Rookie of the Year runner-up, who has been known as much for his wicked wrist shot as his curly blond locks, checked in with a shaved head that elicited more than a few teasing comments from teammates. He wasn't alone in the altered follicle department, as Jose Theodore arrived sporting a thin beard normally reserved for playoff time.
In the midst of all the activity, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey took the time to address the media throng that descended on the Bell Centre. The former team captain, now an integral part of the league's new competition committee, is understandably anxious to see how the new NHL rules will translate on the ice.
"It will be interesting to see the impact of the new rule changes both league-wide and for us here in Montreal specifically," said Gainey. "With the changes having been the result of a combined effort from players, coaches and general managers, everyone was involved in the process of trying to improve our game.
"The mere fact that the recommendations that we as a committee came up with were approved by a landslide margin of 28-2 among NHL clubs shows how committed the league is to making the game more exciting for the fans."
Gainey is also convinced that the roster he has assembled will flourish in the new NHL.
"I think we have a young and exciting group of players with the necessary team speed to be right at home in this new environment," said Gainey. "Like the players, I'm thrilled that we're back talking about hockey and that the players will be soon be back on the ice where they belong."
With roughly 10 players now gone from the team that took to the ice in 2003-04, this season's training camp should be a wide-open affair, which suits Gainey just fine.
"Competition is only going to make our team better," said Gainey. "Having a training camp where everyone's spot is assured defeats the purpose. It's no secret that there are jobs available for players to strive for and these next few weeks will show us who is ready to take advantage of this opportunity."
In his first true day with the Canadiens, Dandenault did his best to follow a tight schedule that required his presence for a physical, fitness tests in the gym, and then a series of team, league, and broadcast partner photo shoots. Following the session where his first official team headshot was taken, Dandenault crossed paths with Gainey after sitting beneath the bright lights striking a pose for the team photographer..
"Look at me over here, I'm sweating," he said in mock exasperation.
"And this is only the beginning," the GM replied with a smile.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.