After years of booing Patrice Brisebois as a game-night tradition at the Bell Centre, Montreal Canadiens fans are re-directing their voices to a new fan favourite.
Though teenager Guillaume Latendresse might not make the team, he has created a stir thus far, from the NHL rookie tournament, to the Habs' regular camp to Tuesday night in his first pre-season game.
Shouts of "Guy, Guy," and we don't mean Lafleur, echoed through the Bell Centre during his two-goal, one-assist night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a 6-1 Habs win. The 6-foot-2 forward has modeled his physical game after Todd Bertuzzi, the pre-Steve Moore edition, and gave the adoring crowd of 18,323 a fist pump after the second of his two power-play goals.
Latendresse, a second-round pick in June from the Drummondville Voltigeurs, will be in the lineup tonight against the Maple Leafs, playing on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais. Canadiens management, trying not to be swayed by just two weeks of results, will grade him further this evening in his first road action.
"If he continues to play like (Tuesday), we have to take a serious look at him," coach Claude Julien told the Montreal Gazette. "There are a lot of factors that will go into the decision, like how it might affect his career. All I can say now is that I'm very impressed with his play."
But with each level he ascends, the public pressure builds to keep Latendresse until the start of the regular season Oct. 5.
Chosen 45th overall, Latendresse was screened from many scouts because he played through a shoulder injury two years ago. Unable to exercise properly, he showed up to Drummondville's camp in 2004 on the porky side and didn't really hit stride until the mid-season prospects' game in Vancouver, by which time Central Scouting had nudged him out of its top 50 junior rankings. He eventually led his club in points with 78 in 65 games and was invited to the national junior team summer evaluation camp in Vancouver. Bertuzzi was there as a spectator, but Latendresse was too awestruck to approach him.
The Habs had arranged a swap of picks with the New York Rangers to draft him. He also has been working with smooth-skating ex-Leaf and Hab Gaston Gingras on his stride, which the latter has improved.
TRIED AT CENTRE
The last Hab to break in as an 18-year-old was defenceman Petr Svoboda in 1985, two years before Latendresse was born. At the rookie camp, Julien tried him at centre (a position he hadn't played since peewee) with good results, though he was on the wing with Radek Bonk and Marcel Hossa on Tuesday.
"If they send me back to junior, that's their decision, but I want to make the decision difficult for them," Latendresse told the Gazette.