defenseman Hal Gill
learned early in his career that being cute is a recipe for disaster.
"It was something Ray Bourque
told me in my first season in the League," Gill told NHL.com. "He said everything has to be done hard in this game ... and that's true even today. If you try to make a cute little play, it will usually cost you."
Gill spent eight seasons with the Boston Bruins
, including three with Bourque, before signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs
in the summer of 2006. He remembers that conversation with the 2004 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee as if it were yesterday. In fact, those lessons he learned are coming into good use as an alternate captain with the Canadiens this season.
"You can't make that cute little saucer pass that forwards make in their end," he said. "In the defensive end, everything has to be hard. That's the biggest thing I got from Ray."
At a time when Montreal coach Jacques Martin is looking for some veteran leadership throughout the lineup following season-ending knee injuries to defensemen Andrei Markov
and Josh Gorges
, Gill is proving to be just the player youngsters P.K. Subban
and Yannick Weber
can lean on.
"It's always something new," said a smiling Gill, a veteran of 13 NHL seasons. "You look at yourself and say, 'This is a good opportunity to step up our game, especially the young guys.' My role doesn't really change that much with those guys being out, but we're playing with different people and it's kind of a new experience every night."
Gill did wonders for the 26-year-old Gorges last season when he was paired with the emerging star for much of the season. Martin now has the 35-year-old veteran alongside Subban.
"I look to him for advice," Subban told NHL.com. "I feel like I can go to him and ask anything. He's a leader on this team and a big part of this hockey club and he knows that he is. If I have questions or am going through rough times, I definitely can talk to him because he's one of the guys who's been there and has gone through those same things. He's won a Stanley Cup (with the Pittsburgh Penguins
in 2009) and knows what it takes to be a pro."
Gill knows he's never been considered an offensive-defenseman, but that doesn't bother him. His strengths lie in stopping opposing forwards and pucks from reaching his goalie. He is second on the team with 82 blocked shots and ninth with 47 hits.
"Hal brings leadership and has been that shut-down defenseman for us," Martin said. "He does a great job on the penalty kill, and even though he's played in this League for a lot of years, he's always working at improving him game. He's extremely committed, is a good family man and has a lot of personality. He has brought a lot of leadership to our younger guys."
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Massachusetts native has been perfecting his French since signing a two-year deal with the Canadiens in July 2009.
"I'm trying," he said. "It's tough. As soon as I try to speak it, I stutter a bit and then go slower and then they start talking in English ... I think they feel sorry for me. They kind of let me off the hook."
"It was something Ray Bourque told me in my first season in the League. He said everything has to be done hard in this game … and that's true even today. If you try to make a cute little play, it will usually cost you." -- Hal Gill
In Gill's eyes, allowing the younger guys to play to their strengths is important. It's something Bourque did for him in his first season with the Bruins.
"I just want to be that steady guy who can allow those other players to make mistakes ... because it's going to happen," he said. "I want them to be aggressive. Looking back, it's the little things that make a difference. That's a big part of what playing defense is -- those little positioning tricks."
In Subban, Gill sees an extraordinarily gifted puck-mover.
"He's got such great foot speed and athletic ability that he's compensated a lot for being out of position a little bit," Gill said. "It really hasn't cost him, so I think it's important that he keep getting better defensively. When you have the puck, you tend to do more on offense and it's all about getting it back and keeping it steady and that's what he's doing well.
"More than telling him what to do, I think we talk about how we'll feed off each other out there. He knows I'm going to be the defensive partner and he's going to be a little more offensive and aggressive. We want to play to each other's strengths."
One other youngster also has appreciated what Gill has brought to the back end -- 23-year-old goalie Carey Price
"He's been a rock-solid leader," Price, who was named to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, told NHL.com. "He's a vocal guy, and when he brings that positive attitude to the rink every day, it definitely helps the morale of the entire hockey team."