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Leafs defenceman Harrison trades punches with Canadiens tough guy Laraque @NHLdotcom

TORONTO - Jay Harrison isn't afraid to come to the defence of his teammates - even if it means dropping the gloves with one of the NHL's most feared fighters.

Harrison exchanged punches with Montreal Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque after the huge Hab knocked Harrison to the ice with a hit, then ran into diminutive Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski.

"He came in pretty high on a little guy," Harrison said. "Fighting isn't always about winning, it's about showing up for your teammates and that's what I attempted to do.

"It's just something that has to be done regardless of who is out there. Obviously you're wary of a man of his stature and prestige in this league, but it's part of the game."

While Harrison and Laraque clearly traded punches, both men were actually only assessed minor penalties for roughing. During the melee, Pavel Kubina came to the aid of his Leafs teammate by grabbing Laraque's arm.

Harrison was happy for a little help from his fellow defenceman.

"There's always safety in numbers," Harrison joked. "It's team toughness and for him to come in there, that's really great of him and I'd do the same for him for sure."

Toronto's 6-2 loss to Montreal on Saturday was Harrison's fourth game with the team this season, and he picked up his first point on a third-period assist.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson credited the rugged blue-liner for answering the bell against a daunting counterpart in Laraque - and for his overall play since joining the club.

"He jumped right in there with Laraque and it takes a lot of courage to do that," Wilson said. "He's moving the puck well and I think since he's come back he's played fairly well."

Harrison spent this season playing in Switzerland before signing with Toronto in late March in a move that allowed the club to shift some players down to the AHL in order to gain playoff experience.

The six-foot-four, 210-pounder spent six seasons in the Leafs organization primarily in the AHL - prior to playing in Europe. The 26-year-old sees the team's remaining games as an opportunity to prove he deserves a job in North America next season.

"I want to contribute what I can within my role on this team and what is being asked of me," he said.

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