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Roy MacGregor

Both friend and foe take notice of Subban Add to ...

Even the company that makes the bobblehead dolls would find him difficult.

He rocks from side to side so wildly during the anthem that it seems one more and he has to topple. Once the singing is over, he leaps onto the ice even though he is not pencilled in to start, grabs a water bottle to spray his head and stands shaking so hard in front of the bench it seems his veins contain Red Bull rather than blood.

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P.K. Subban is good to go.

The Montreal Canadiens rookie defenceman keeps telling people "I haven't even played 20 games yet in the NHL" but as of tonight, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he can say that no more.

It seems, however, that he has been around for years, and in a way he has. They began chanting his initials "Pee!Kay! ... Pee!Kay!" at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa, where he starred in Canada's fifth-straight gold-medal run. And they have roared it in Montreal since he became the surprise of last spring's playoffs, coming in late in the first round and helping the Canadiens to upsets of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. His visor-to-visor staredowns with Sidney Crosby, his risky spins on the ice and his mouth both on the ice and in the dressing room led one paper to tag him "P.K. Cocky."

This is not to compare him to Sean Avery, the foul-mouthed pest of the New York Rangers. Subban, to the contrary, speaks like the son of a school principal that he is, as a junior player telling one reporter "With respect, I beg to differ…." and just last week in Montreal referring to bad feelings on the ice as "animus."

No wonder the reporters crowd around him; no wonder his teammates are so amused by him; no wonder opposing teams so often lose it around him.

On Tuesday in Montreal he enraged Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards. "He's a guy that's come in the league and hasn't earned respect," Richards told a radio reporter. "It's just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here and so much as think that he's better than a lot of people.

"You have to earn respect in this league. It takes a lot. You can't just come in here as a rookie and play like that. It's not the way to get respect from other players around the league. Hopefully someone on their team addresses it, because, I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but something might happen to him if he continues to be that cocky."

Subban, 21, took it all in stride, claiming he was merely a "confident" player and would continue to play that way.

"I'm a rookie," he added as an afterthought. "I should probably keep my mouth shut more often than not."

His teammates expect no such thing from the defenceman. "That's when P.K. plays well," Hal Gill told reporters the day after the Richards speech, "when he's under people's skin and forces people into poor decisions trying to hit him. Then he can skate and wheel off and make plays. From what I've seen, that's what P.K. does well. I wouldn't expect him to change anything he does."

What Subban does most obviously is demonstrate exuberance for the game, a sheer delight on the ice that will be even more apparent when he faces his hometown Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada. The Canadiens, despite coming off a shutout loss to the Nashville Predators, are one of the league's hottest teams, with a 12-6-1 record through 19 games. The Leafs are a lowly 7-8-3 through 18 games, but have won their last two.

Subban's mother, Maria, and sisters Nastassia and Natasha are coming to Montreal for the game. He himself is so pumped it is a wonder he didn't spray water on his head during the interview.

"It's cool, man! It's where I'm from. It's my home town team. It's going to be great!"

"He's a rambunctious player," Leafs coach Ron Wilson says.

"He's going to be in your face and he seems to have the ability to back it up. He's fun to watch."

Reminder: Check again with the Toronto coach after the game.

With a report from David Shoalts in Toronto.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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