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Who’s next?

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – On Sunday night, defenseman Joel Hanley became the latest player to audition on the Canadiens’ blue line.

Like the proverb says, one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain. That’s been the case for several members of the Canadiens’ defense corps as of late. Since the end of February, four defensemen that were in uniform for the season-opener in October have gone down due to injury at some point in time, including Tom Gilbert, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu and P.K. Subban. Two others who were called up from the St. John’s IceCaps – Mark Barberio and Victor Bartley – are now sidelined with injuries of their own. That doesn’t include Darren Dietz, who has been shuffled between the AHL and the NHL twice over the course of the last week.

Several days ago, another soldier added his name to that list when Hanley joined the Canadiens on an emergency recall. After plying his trade on Friday and Saturday in Syracuse with the IceCaps, the 24-year-old defenseman left New York State early Sunday morning, and made the 400-kilometre bus trip to Montreal before suiting up for his first career NHL game that night at the Bell Centre.

Now, with two contests under his belt following Tuesday night’s tilt against the Ducks, Hanley benefitted from a day off on Monday in between outings to reflect on reaching the NHL ranks after essentially being parachuted into Montreal on short notice.

“The day off was definitely good to unwind a little bit and make some phone calls. I received some text messages from friends, so it allowed me to get back to them and say thank you for supporting me. I’m from a small town, so the support was awesome,” admitted Hanley, whose parents were in the Bell Centre stands for his NHL debut on Sunday night against Calgary. “I think I was a little less nervous on Tuesday night, but that’s normal. I tried to control those nerves and turn them into excitement to help my play. I don’t know if it showed, but I just tried to play my game.”

Hanley’s road to the NHL ranks included several stops along the way. After wrapping up his collegiate career at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst in 2013-14, the Keswick, ON native joined the Arizona Coyotes organization, splitting his time between their ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett and their AHL club in Portland. Signed to a free-agent contract by the Canadiens last July 1st, the six-foot, 193-pound rearguard spent time in St. John’s over the last few months not knowing if he’d ever get a shot with the big club.

“I didn’t know what the chances were for me to get here, and I tried not look into that too much. You just play. If they call you, that’s what you hope for,” said Hanley, who benefitted from playing alongside a familiar face in Dietz with the Canadiens, his defense partner in St. John’s. “I was fortunate with all the injuries here. I just try to play my best and help the team as much as I can.”

While Hanley travelled to Detroit with the rest of team on Wednesday afternoon and he’ll be in uniform on Thursday night, he knows he might soon be St. John’s bound with Subban nearing a return to active duty. Having played well so far, though, the young defenseman is adamant about focusing solely on the present and making the most of the opportunity he’s been presented with this time around.

“It’s hard not to see that some guys will be coming back. At the same time, you can’t control anything, but you can control your play,” concluded Hanley, who picked up the first two points of his NHL career on Tuesday night. “If I’m playing, that’s awesome. If I’m not, I’ll just continue working hard and enjoy it one day at the time.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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