Rookie Hab hears chants

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

If the demanding hockey fans of Montreal had a say in the final roster decisions of their beloved Canadiens, then Guillaume Latendresse -- known as Guy to his teammates -- already would have made the club.

A packed house at the Bell Centre made its collective feelings quite clear during the Habs' pre-season opener earlier this week by bellowing chants of "Guy, Guy" almost every time Latendresse, 19, took a shot or laid out a hit.

It reminded many of the reaction former Canadiens great Guy Lafleur received throughout the 1970s and '80s. The crowd at the fabled Montreal Forum would cry out The Flower's first name whenever the speedy winger, his trademark blonde mane flowing, would bust down the wing and blow the puck past an opposing netminder.

No one is suggesting Latendresse is poised to challenge the Hall of Fame career turned in by Lafleur, one of the sport's most colourful and entertaining performers of all time.

But it is quite clear that the young Canadiens power forward has captured the heart and imagination of Habs supporters for his rambunctous play, his immense talents and, yes, for being a fellow Francophone, too.

Latendresse was the darling of Montreal during training camp a year ago, almost making the team before being sent back to junior.

This time around, he plans on finishing what he started.

While many figured Latendresse would be ticketed for demotion again, his goal and all-around exuberant play during a 5-2 pre-season loss to the Bruins on Tuesday earned him some heady praise from Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau.

The Habs bench boss was far less complimentary of fellow forward Alexander Perezhogin, the man whose controversial hit led to the retirement of the Philadelphia Flyers Keith Primeau.

"Perezhogin must play better and use his speed," Carbonneau said after the defeat.

Perezhogin's job with the bleu blanc et rouge is said to be in jeopardy, given the push Latendresse is making to earn a spot with the Habs. Their battle continues tonight when both are in the lineup to face the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

"Last year (at training camp)I didn't play that well on the road," Latendresse told Le Journal de Montreal yesterday. "I know I can play better."

If the kid can pull it off, he could own the entire town one day.

For now the 6-foot-2 teenager will settle for making the team.


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