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Campoli happy to have found a home

by Arpon Basu
BROSSARD, Que. -- Chris Campoli arrived in Montreal on Tuesday and added to what was already a crowded Canadiens blue line, which begs the question as to why an unrestricted free agent defenseman would want to put himself in that situation.

The simple answer is that for Campoli, it was better than the alternative.

So instead of working out with his hometown Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the Ontario Hockey League while waiting for the phone to ring on Tuesday, Campoli was skating alongside Josh Gorges at Canadiens practice.

"It wasn't the ideal situation, there's no doubt about that," Campoli said of his in-limbo status since becoming an unrestricted free agent July 22 when the Chicago Blackhawks walked away from a $2.5 million arbitration award.


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"But there were teams talking and (showing) interest, so I was confident I would end up in a good situation. There's no better place to play hockey than here, so I'm very excited and fortunate."

Campoli said he's been on the ice every day with St. Mike's so his conditioning is where it needs to be, but the timing will need to be fast-tracked over the Canadiens' final two preseason games this Thursday and Saturday.

As for the unique aspects of playing in a city like Montreal, Campoli was given an advance scouting report from his buddy Michael Cammalleri.

"He just said you're going to love it, there's no better place to play hockey, you better brush up on your French," Campoli said. "I'm going to start with ‘Salut' (hello) today, and hopefully every day I'll have something else to add."

As a native of the Toronto area, Campoli offered a "no comment" when asked if he grew up cheering for the rival Maple Leafs. But he appeared sincere in his appreciation of the Canadiens' great history and what it means to be a part of that.

"The history here, it's humbling to put the jersey on. It means a lot -- even though I'm from Toronto, it's exciting for me," said Campoli, who inherited No. 17 with the Canadiens, his regular No. 14 taken by Tomas Plekanec.

"Every time you step on the ice as a visitor at the Bell Centre, for me the last six years, you get chills when the lights go out and the kids skate on the ice. It's exciting that I'll be going out after those kids wearing red."

Tuesday's practice was one of the first times since training camp began that coach Jacques Martin appeared to be running the lines he hopes to start the regular season with.

On the back end, P.K. Subban was with his partner from last season Hal Gill, Campoli jumped onto the second pairing with Gorges and Jaroslav Spacek was playing with Swiss free agent Raphael Diaz, who received uncharacteristically effusive praise from Martin after Monday night's 2-1 loss to Boston.

Russian newcomer Alexei Yemelin was skating with Jeff Woywitka on what could be considered a fourth pairing, while Yannick Weber was suddenly skating as a forward, a role he filled regularly last season.

Meanwhile, the team is expecting the rehabbing Andrei Markov to be ready to play shortly after the regular season begins, adding another body to the mix.

"We've got depth there, there's no doubt about it," Campoli said. "We've got a veteran group, but those are decisions for coaches and management. I'm focused right now on what I can do to help this team, and that's getting back into the swing of things."

Gorges said the added competition Campoli's arrival creates for spots in the lineup and ice time during games should have a trickledown effect on every defenseman on the team.

"When you have depth and you have options, you can't afford to take a night off," Gorges said. "That's healthy competition, not only in games but in practices, making sure that you're always ready to go and you're at your best. Because if you're not, we have other guys who can step in and fill the role. That little push keeps you ready."

Even though the Canadiens have so many able bodies on defense, Campoli said what clinched his decision to sign with the team was the enthusiasm he saw on their part to have him enter the fold.

"One of the things that was really appealing to me was they wanted me here right away, they wanted me to get in and get ready and be a part of it," he said. "As a player, when somebody wants you around, it's important."
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