MONTREAL - A fresh face in the dressing room helped propel a rejuvenated Canadiens lineup to a convincing 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Dealt from Chicago to Montreal as part of a package for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, 23-year-old Phillip Danault made his Habs debut just 24 hours after being acquired by his favorite childhood team.
“I was a little bit tired at the beginning of the game due to the lack of sleep, but when coach put me in the starting lineup, just being out on the ice for the national anthems gave me chills and a rush of adrenaline. Playing in front of such amazing fans gives you goosebumps. It was an incredible feeling,” noted an excited Danault, whose batteries were running low after getting just 45-minutes of sleep ahead of his much anticipated debut. “I was just visualizing and focusing on playing my game and ended up thinking about it all last night. Luckily I spoke with coach Therrien before the game and he told me to just play my game and I’ll be fine.”
The Habs newst arrival and his teammates gave the Bell Centre faithful plenty to cheer about on route to extending their point streak to four games. Danault, for his part, was given 14:17 of ice time while centering a hard checking line flanked by speedy winger Paul Byron and the physical presence of Jacob de la Rose.
When prompted to give his opinion on Danault’s debut, P.K Subban didn’t hold back on the high praises.
“Oh, I was really impressed. He’d been playing with the defending Stanley Cup champs in Chicago so he’s bringing that winning mentality here. I mean the way he played tonight, I thought he came into the lineup and did a really good job,” analyzed Subban, who registered his 42nd assist of the season on captain Max Pacioretty’s first of two goals on the night. “It’s great to have the young guys join the team; they are so full of energy. Obviously it's tough to see your teammates go and especially since Dale was a good friend of mine and was a big part of this team. It’s tough to see he and Flash go, but it’s all part of the business to have new guys come in and step up. Danny [Danault] and Mac [ Michael McCarrron] came into the lineup with fresh legs and did a good job for us.”
Though Friday’s trade caught most by surprise, the former Victoriaville Tigre's inclusion in the trade between Montreal and Chicago was far from coincidental. In fact, the Habs interest in Danault stems back to Marc Bergevin’s days as the Blackhawks assistant general manager, when he helped pluck the two-way forward from the stands with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft.
“Marc Bergevin called me and told me that he’d been watching my games and has had interest in me for a while. I believe he was the person in the Blackhawks organization that made sure the team drafted me. So it’s a great feeling to be back on his team,” explained the Habs new number 24, whose homecoming was so surreal that even his own father wouldn’t believe it was true. “The first person I called when I learnt about the trade was my father in Victoriaville, and he actually wouldn’t even believe me! He had no idea that the trade had happened yet. He was the first person I spoke to after I got the call from Stan Bowman telling me that I was going to be a Montreal Canadien.”
Like many Canadiens fans that grew up in the 1990’s, Danault was a devoted supporter of one of the most courageous athletes to ever don the CH; longtime captain Saku Koivu.
“My favorite player growing up was Saku Koivu. As captain he set a great example for his teammates to follow, even when he went through such a tough time battling cancer. He always acted and played his career with class,” concluded the young center.
Should the rookie approach each game with same fearless determination and competitive spirit as his childhood hero, Danault will surely become a fan favorite in no time.
Jared Ostroff is a writer for canadiens.com
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