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Habs' top pick Alex Galchenyuk working to fit the part

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Que. -- Even before Alex Galchenyuk held his first session with the Montreal media, and long before he hit the ice for the first time in a Canadiens uniform in front of hundreds of fans at Montreal's development camp on Thursday, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft was doing his best to fit the part.

Using his Twitter account (@AGally94), Galchenyuk announced to fans upon his arrival in Montreal on Wednesday, "Landed in Montreal !! #commasava #savabein #HABS."

That was a valiant attempt to say "Comment ça va?" (How are you?) and "Ça va bien" (I'm fine) in the language of the vast majority of Canadiens fans.

Then on Thursday, while on a break at development camp, Galchenyuk tweeted: "Fini les evaluation au Canadiens maintenant relaxe avec @KidHud_10 #HABS."

That means that the evaluations were finished for the day and it was now time to relax with @KidHud_10, which is the Twitter handle of Canadiens fifth-round pick Charles Hudon.

Galchenyuk's dad in history books

While Alex Galchenyuk's father never reached his dream of playing in the NHL, he was a part of hockey history.

Alexander Galchenyuk was a member of the Soviet team that faced Team Canada at the 1987 World Junior Championships, a game marred by a bench-clearing brawl that continued even though officials ordered the lights be turned off at the arena in Piestany, Czechoslovakia, and was ultimately canceled because the players could not be controlled.

The game came to be known infamously as the "Punch up in Piestany," a game that featured future NHL stars Brendan Shanahan, Theo Fleury and Pierre Turgeon.

The younger Galchenyuk says he's watched the video of that ugly incident a few times, and he's not really buying his father's version of events.

"I watched that video a couple of times, and he keeps saying they beat Canada in that fight," he said, smiling. "But I don't know about that."

-- Arpon Basu

Galchenyuk was big enough to admit later that he cheated a bit on that last tweet.

"Yeah, he helped me," Galchenyuk said, referring to Hudon, as he met with a throng of reporters.

While Galchenyuk represents what the Canadiens have been missing for years on the ice – a big, strong, highly skilled center – it appears he could also serve to fill another void as a potential star player who can speak French.

Galchenyuk lived in Switzerland for a year when he was 9 while his father, Alexander, played for Sierre. He learned French while he was there, though he said he has since lost his command of the language.

But it's something he would like to learn again.

"I know the fans here appreciate it when the players try to speak French," Galchenyuk said, "so I'll do what I can."

Hudon says since he's met him, Galchenyuk has shown great interest in trying to pick up the language – which would be his fourth, as he already speaks Russian, English and Italian fluently.

"He wanted to send out a Russian tweet on my account, but I told him I don't have too many Russian followers so it would be better if I did a French tweet on his account," Hudon said. "But he really wants to learn it, which is a good thing for Montreal."

Hudon should have said "another good thing for Montreal," because Galchenyuk's eventual arrival to the Canadiens – whether it's next season or in the near future – has the team's rabid fan base excited again after enduring the franchise's worst regular-season finish since the 1967 expansion.

The hundreds of fans who turned up Thursday to watch Galchenyuk skate along with his fellow 2012 draft picks – Sebastian Collberg (No. 33), Dalton Thrower (No. 51), Tim Bozon (No. 64), Brady Vail (No. 94), Hudon (No. 122) and Erik Nystrom (No. 154) – pales in comparison with his massive boost in Twitter followers since he was picked last Friday.

Prior to the first round of the draft, Galchenyuk had about 8,000 followers. As of Thursday afternoon, the number was hovering near 23,000.

"I know the fans are very passionate about the sport here in Montreal," he said. "They go crazy about it, which is great if you're a hockey player – you want to see people talking about you. I really enjoy it."

The idea of playing for the Canadiens was very exciting for Galchenyuk's father, who bounced around from league to league and country to country without ever making the NHL, but who has played a very big role in his son being on the cusp of realizing that dream.

But he wasn't the only member of Galchenyuk's family who was happy young Alex was going to Montreal.

"Even my grandparents, if you asked them how many teams were in the NHL they would probably say, ‘Montreal and the Chicago Blackhawks,'" Galchenyuk said. "So when I said I got drafted by Montreal, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, we know that team.' So it's a big tradition here and we're all really happy about it."

Canadiens fans – based on how they flocked to watch him skate on Thursday and have inflated his Twitter followers threefold in less than a week – would probably like to say, "Likewise."

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