Big Georges is back

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Georges Laraque has been back to Rexall Place before as a member of the opposition.

In fact, last night was the fifth game he's played here since leaving the Edmonton Oilers.

However, it was the first time he's returned to Edmonton as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, the team Laraque grew up idolizing.

"It feels special," Laraque said. "Every time I've come back here wearing another jersey, it's been different. But I remember when I was here, every time we played the Habs here, there were always a lot of Canadiens fans in the stands cheering for them. Now being here as one of them feels very special."

Laraque, 32, signed a three-year deal with the Canadiens this off-season, allowing him to return to his hometown.

The Oilers had also made a pitch to the six- foot-three, 243-pound winger, leaving him with a tough decision. Despite having left the Oilers following the 2005-2006 season, Laraque still makes his off-season home here and has always been interested in returning.

Knowing the Oilers new owner on a personal basis opened the door for that to happen.

"We would have brought him back," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "But it was his choice to go over to Montreal, his mother is there and it's pretty understandable that he ended up there."

Laraque was originally drafted by the Oilers in the second round (31st overall) of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.

He played eight seasons in Edmonton before departing as a free agent to the Phoenix Coyotes. From there, Laraque was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he rode shotgun with Sidney Crosby for a year and a half before signing with the Canadiens.

At the time of Laraque's departure from Edmonton, there was talk he had a falling-out with MacTavish which was one of the reasons the Oilers did not re-sign him. The other was because Edmonton was not prepared to give him a no-trade clause.

"Everything is good between us; I almost came here," Laraque said. "The issue was never about me and Mac. One of the reasons why I played a lot and I'm more than a one-dimensional player was because of him. He made me work hard and helped me develop the skills that would help me play the game.

"It was just a matter of wanting to go play back in my hometown in front of my family and my mom. But other than that, everything is fine between us."

Having suffered back problems this season, Laraque has been limited to 20 games, collecting a pair of assists and amassing 38 penalty minutes.

Last night was just his fourth game since coming back from the injury.

"Now my back is fine," Laraque said. "I'm glad it's fine at this time of year so I'm able to play here. But it's something that I'm going to have to watch and make sure I warm up every day."

Playing in Montreal can be a difficult task for any player in the NHL, however being a hometown product does have some added expectations.

Having been the centre of attention in Edmonton for such a long time has prepared Laraque somewhat for his homecoming.

"Media-wise and the way that everything goes, I knew what to expect going in there," Laraque said. "After playing nine years for a Canadian team and having to deal with the media here, I was prepared to go into a market like Montreal."

One of the biggest differences is having ardent supporters wherever the team travels.

The Canadiens rarely play in a hostile environment having so many fans scattered throughout the league. It's especially the case on their rare ventures out to Western Canada.

"Everywhere we go, there are Habs fans," he said. "Being an Original Six team, everywhere we go the support is everywhere. It's awesome, it just shows you how much tradition this team has, that's why towards the end of my career, it was a no-brainer for me to come here."


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