Habs rookie staying

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 11:35 AM ET

MONTREAL -- While Hockey Canada said hello to Pat Quinn yesterday, it waved goodbye to Montreal Canadiens power forward Guillaume Latendresse.

Feeling they need to keep the popular rookie at the NHL level, especially in the absence of injured winger Chris Higgins, the Habs informed Hockey Canada that they would not release the 19-year-old winger for the coming world junior championship in Sweden.

"With guys 18 or 19 years old, you try to take the junior stuff out of their head and be a pro," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said during his daily news conference. "Personally, I think (sending him to the worlds) would have been a step back."

With Higgins out at least three more weeks because of an ankle injury, Latendresse has stepped in to plug the hole on the Canadiens' first line alongside Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder. That's the way they will line up tonight when the Canadiens play host to the Leafs at the Bell Centre.

"If I went to the world junior I'd miss out on the chance I have now to play on the first line and I'd be disappointed," said Latendresse, a member of Canada's championship squad in Vancouver last January.

"Last year I had my chance to win gold at the world junior so I think right now I'm in the NHL and I have something to prove here."

Latendresse has three goals and four assists in 11 games since joining the top line.

"With the way he has played with us and with Higgins injured, it was an easy decision," Carbonneau said.


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