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Max Pacioretty eager to play with Shea Weber

Canadiens captain calls new defenseman 'strong presence,' says Montreal 'a lot better'

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's a healthy drive from Montreal's South Shore to Terrebonne, Quebec, north of the city; 35 minutes with no traffic. Which is never.

So Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty and Shea Weber, the Canadiens' new defenseman, had plenty of time to talk Tuesday en route to the fourth annual charity golf tournament hosted by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.

It was Pacioretty's idea for them to travel together to Le Mirage Golf Club, an extension of the time they'd spent the night before, during dinner with defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, forward Andrew Shaw, who been acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 24, and Pat Brisson, Pacioretty's agent.

Therrien's tournament would be Weber's introduction to the Montreal media following the trade with the Nashville Predators for P.K. Subban on June 29. 

"Shea'd had a busy day on Monday," Pacioretty said Thursday, after Weber had been in the grasp of the Canadiens' public relations department Monday for publicity photos and videos. "It would have been a lot for him to digest, walking into the golf tournament alone. I figured there'd be a ton of media and fans there."

Video: TBL@MTL: Pacioretty beats Vasilevskiy far side

Pacioretty probably underestimated the crowd; the gathering might have eclipsed what will be on hand in mid-September for the Canadiens' annual curtain-raising golf tournament, which will come when many among the regular media corps will be in Toronto covering the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

"I couldn't really tell Shea what to expect because it was my first time at Michel's tournament," Pacioretty said. "But it was crazy. There were a lot of people there, there was a lot of coverage, they raised a lot of money ($177,000 for the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation), and they did a great job of not just throwing Shea to the wolves. We wanted to present him with his new jersey and take a few pictures of him with [owner] Geoff [Molson] and Michel and me. It worked out perfectly.

"Every time I've talked to the guy, everything he says is with such class. He's such a strong presence. It's not a cliché. I really have learned a lot from him already, just from our brief time together. I'm really excited to get started and play alongside a guy like that."

Pacioretty is spending August in Montreal with his wife, Katia, and their sons, Enzo, almost 3, and Max Jr., 14 months. It's something new for a family that usually arrives from their summer home in Florida near the start of training camp. 

"We're doing more child-proofing in the house," Pacioretty said. "Max Jr. is starting to walk, so if it's not nailed down he'll break it."

This summer has been a lot better than last for Pacioretty, who in 2015 sustained tibial plateau fractures in his left knee during a dry-land sprint in early July, putting him on crutches and then through many long weeks of rehab, which ran through the end of training camp.

Video: TBL@MTL: Pacioretty seals the win into the empty net

"Obviously this offseason has been longer than we'd have liked," Pacioretty said, referring to the Canadiens' missing the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. "So you use summer the right way to be ready for the upcoming season. With the World Cup (Pacioretty will play for Team USA), it's going to be a little harder on the body with extra games that are going to be very intense. I have to be ready to go in September but make sure I don't overdo it either. I've been skating a lot, and last summer I couldn't skate at all. I'm just excited for this to start."

Another part of his summer has been adjusting to Subban's absence. Like the rest of the hockey universe, Pacioretty was stunned when Subban, a hugely popular and enormously charismatic figure in Montreal, was traded. Pacioretty said he talked to Subban, who was on vacation in Europe, right after the trade was made, and said he got in touch with Weber soon afterward.

"The trade was crazy and it was unexpected," Pacioretty said. "I made sure the first thing I did was reach out to P.K. There's been a lot of time we've been together. We've developed a relationship over the years. Obviously you don't want to have a season where you put management in a position where they have to make moves like that. But we weren't good enough last year. Management was looking to do whatever it would take to get stronger and that's what they've done.

"I'll miss seeing P.K. a lot, but it's August now and I've talked to him. He's happy with the opportunity he's getting in Nashville. I was able to meet both [Shaw] and Shea this week and it went a lot better than I ever would have imagined. These are two really cool guys who have a history of winning, who have a track record of being on winning teams. It's cool to add that winning culture to our team and it's been cool to hear their first impressions of Montreal and to see them happy about their new opportunity here. I hope it's going to be contagious throughout our lineup."

Weber won gold medals with Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and will play for Team Canada at the World Cup. Shaw won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013 and 2015.

Pacioretty has led the Canadiens in goals and points the past three seasons. He shouldered a huge load last season, having been elected by teammates as the 29th captain, then saw a 9-0-0 start disintegrate when goalie Carey Price, forward Brendan Gallagher and others sustained injuries from which Montreal never was able to recover.

Some in the media tried to suggest that a Pacioretty-Subban feud was simmering, which both players vigorously denied; Pacioretty said he texted Subban more than any other player in the days following the trade.

And others were upset because it wasn't until now that Weber arrived in Montreal from his summer home in Kelowna, British Columbia.

"It made sense that the team waited to have Shea come in," Pacioretty said. "It was such a hot topic. There was such mayhem at first. It made sense to let it die down and let people digest the fact that we now have Shea Weber on our roster. 

"Some people took it like management traded away P.K. for nothing in return. Even P.K. said to me, 'It's not like they traded me for nothing. You guys got an unbelievable player [in Weber].' It's part of the business. Players are traded all the time. But I think people are going to be really impressed with the way Shea Weber plays."

As he heads into his final weeks of preparation for the World Cup and the 2016-17 NHL season, Pacioretty said he likes what he sees on the Canadiens. Of course, the left wing is also aware that the aftershocks of the Subban-Weber trade still are rumbling through Montreal.

"I really feel that we are a lot better going into this season, but some people will hear those words and think I'm saying that Shea Weber is better than P.K. Subban," Pacioretty said. "That's not what I'm saying. They're different players. P.K. is going to shine in Nashville. It's a great opportunity for him. 

"And we didn't just add Weber. We added a great goal-scorer as well, a dynamic offensive threat in [free agent forward] Alexander Radulov, and [Shaw], who is very, very hard to play against. The combination of everything management has added is the recipe for what we need to succeed. I really feel we're going to be a lot better. Now it's up to us to go out on the ice and prove it."

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