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Tavares-Subban friendship adds something extra

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- If New York Islanders center John Tavares ever was wondering when he would get his first opportunity to face his best friend in an NHL game, he only needed to take one look at his cell phone.

On it he would find a series of text messages from Montreal Canadiens rookie defenseman P.K. Subban, some friendly and others a little less so, talking some trash about Wednesday's game against the Islanders at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN, RDS).

"Mostly it's him, he's always been like that," Tavares said of the mobile taunting. "I usually try to stay quiet and let my play on the ice speak for itself."

This is not the first opportunity Tavares has had to put that into practice, because he and Subban have grown up together as hockey players.

Subban, 21, and Tavares, 20, have been close friends for as long as either one of them can remember. Subban's father and Tavares' uncle went to school together in Sudbury, Ont., and the families remained friends in the Toronto area.

Subban and Tavares played their minor hockey in the Greater Toronto Hockey League and were drafted into the Ontario Hockey League in 2005 -- Tavares went with the first pick to the Oshawa Generals and Subban in the sixth round to the Belleville Bulls.

Over the next four years, the two faced each other countless times, and they were teammates twice for Canada at the World Junior Championship, winning gold together in 2008 and 2009.

But last season, Tavares made the Islanders after being the first pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, while Subban, a 2007 second-round pick, spent his first professional season with AHL Hamilton. Subban made a big contribution when he was called up by the Canadiens in the playoffs, but Tavares and the Islanders didn't qualify for the postseason.

So Wednesday will be the first time Subban and Tavares will face each other as professionals.

"There's always trash talking, but at the end of the day it's just two teams looking to get two points," Subban said Wednesday, failing to mention the trash talk was largely one-way. "But it will be fun to play against him. I have a good rapport with he and his family. We've had a good relationship going way back."

Subban has seen Tavares on the opposite side of the ice often enough to know that he can't really get more amped up for this game than he does for any other.

"J.T.'s always a competitive guy, so I don't know how much more competitive he can get," Subban said. "We both want to win, we both want to do well."

Thus far this season, they both have.

Tavares comes into Wednesday's game on a tear, with 5 goals and 2 assists in his last four games, while Subban has 4 assists and a plus-4 rating in his last five games, logging well north of 20 minutes a night.

Even more impressive is that the Canadiens and Islanders are a point apart near the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

And they've both relied heavily on the best friends squaring off for the first time in the NHL Wednesday, with text-message bragging rights clearly on the line.
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