MONTREAL - Josh Gorges takes special pleasure is proving his detractors wrong.
The six-foot-one, 200-pound defenceman was considered two small for major junior hockey, let alone his current job - skating on the Montreal Canadiens top defence pair with the gifted Andrei Markov.
The 24-year-old was not drafted as a teenager by any of the teams in the Western Hockey League and, after playing well enough to be captain of the Kelowna Rockets, was left undrafted by the 30 NHL clubs in 2002, finally signing as a free agent with San Jose.
And not much was expected when he was traded by the Sharks to Montreal for veteran Craig Rivet and a first round draft pick on Feb. 25, 2007, but that transaction now looks like a steal for the Canadiens.
"It's funny but it's kind of how it's gone for me in my career," Gorges said Friday. "I wasn't supposed to play junior. I was too small.
"I wasn't supposed to sign a contract to play in the NHL. People have always told me I shouldn't be able to do it, but you feed off that. You use it as motivation. Every time someone tells you that you can't, you're not good enough, it pushes you that much harder to prove that you can."
When Mike Komisarek suffered a shoulder injury on Nov. 13, Gorges was promoted from the third pairing to the first to take his spot. Rather than being overwhelmed by the extra minutes of ice-time and responsibilities, the hard-working Gorges has fit in seamlessly.
On Nov. 24, he scored his first goal since joining the Canadiens, and after posting a plus-4 in a 6-2 win over the visiting New York Rangers on Thursday night, he shares the team lead in that category with captain Saku Koivu at plus-11.
"We didn't know how it would work out, but we knew the effort would be there," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "That's how it is with Josh.
"Every game, he'll give everything he has. He'll block a shot with his face if he has to. He'll do anything to win."
The six-foot-four Komisarek, injured in a fight with Boston's Milan Lucic, skated on his own for a second day in a row on Friday and is expected back just before Christmas. Then Gorges will likely move back to another pairing, but Carbonneau now knows he can do front line duty if needed.
The third-year coach compares Gorges with one of his old teammates from the 1990s, gritty right winger Mike Keane, who also was never drafted.
"Sometimes players have a chip on their shoulder," Carbonneau said. "Mike Keane was the same way. He was never drafted and then had a great career in the NHL. They play with a chip on their shoulder just to prove to everyone that they were wrong."
Gorges, a Kelowna native, was invited to the Rockets camp, made the team and ended up going to two consecutive Memorial Cup tournaments, winning in 2004 when he was captain. He also played for Canada at the world junior championships that year, losing in the final to the United States in Helsinki.
He was asked to try out for the Sharks and, a day before he may have been sent back to junior, was offered a contract. He played the 2004-05 season with AHL Cleveland and played 96 games over two seasons with San Jose before he was dealt to the Canadiens.
In Montreal, he was little known and barely played. Fans were more excited about the draft pick, which the Canadiens used to select winger Max Pacioretty, now one of their brightest prospects.
Gorges spent more time in the press box than on the ice in the first two months of last season, but once he got his chance, he played the final 62 games of the 2007-08 campaign and showed he belonged.
"Things fall into place sometimes," he said.
Losing Komisarek was a blow to the Canadiens, but a team that struggled through November has righted itself this month. They have won all three games of their current seven-game homestand, which continues with a meeting Saturday night with the New Jersey Devils.
Gorges said getting used to playing with Markov, who is second in team scoring with 20 points and first in ice-time with 24:44 per game, has been no trouble at all.
"He makes the game really easy," Gorges said. "You just have to be in position and if you're open, he'll get you the puck.
"And you know that when you get it, you'll probably have time because he won't put you in a bad situation. But the biggest difference is the minutes you play and the players you play against. He plays against the best players every night and he logs a lot of minutes. It's nice. I love the challenge."
Markov has not had to change his game at all.
"It's a little different, but not a lot," the veteran from Russia said. "We have the same system on the team, that's why it's easy. It doesn't matter which partner you have, you have to do your job. I feel comfortable."
Gorges has become good friends with young goaltender Carey Price and their unique way of celebrating wins at the ends of games has become a show in itself, with mock face washes and punches. After the win over New York, it almost looked like a brawl.
"He's a fun guy," he said of Price. "After the game, I don't know why guys started beating on him. He tried to give me a face wash so I got out of there as quick as I could. The other guys came in and gave him a few punches.
"You don't want to be in the middle of the circle, especially if you've had a good game or scored a couple of goals. You're going to take a few gloves to the face."