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Josh Gorges of the Montreal Canadiens puts on his jersey at the NHL Heritage Classic Press Conference at McMahon Stadium on August 4, 2010 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dylan Lynch/Getty Images) (Dylan Lynch/2010 Getty Images)
Josh Gorges of the Montreal Canadiens puts on his jersey at the NHL Heritage Classic Press Conference at McMahon Stadium on August 4, 2010 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dylan Lynch/Getty Images) (Dylan Lynch/2010 Getty Images)

Gorges grows into role of Mr. Reliable Add to ...

Wednesday night they'll play under the glare of the Bell Centre lights, which should be a more suitable hockey environment than the Montreal Canadiens' practice facility was on Tuesday.

As the coaches put half the Habs' training camp roster through its paces - the 53 players have been split into two groups - the arena floodlights suddenly went out.

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"That's how some guys must feel every night, I'm not going to say names," winger Michael Cammalleri said.

He joked that "I felt like I was Dean Youngblood for a while out there in the dark," and that as the murk descended, he thought, "Oh, I'll just snap one through, probably the goalie won't see it and it'll go in."

Well, not quite.

The puck caromed off defenceman Josh Gorges' stick and struck him squarely, er, amidships - "he went down and out," Cammalleri chuckled.

"It was tough to see the puck out there, I took one not in the best areas. But I'm okay," Gorges smiled afterward.

Near misses make levity possible, but keeping Gorges out of the trainer's room is a key priority for the Canadiens this year.

The Kelowna, B.C., native has become the Habs' Mr. Reliable, one of just two Canadiens to play in every game last season, and the numbers show the underappreciated rearguard has blossomed into a top-tier defensive defencemen.

Montreal's coaches have also praised the 26-year-old for his leadership abilities - he is the Habs' union representative. All in all, he's come a long way for a guy who wasn't drafted into the NHL, and who the San Jose Sharks saw fit to package in a 2007 deal for defenceman Craig Rivet, who later decamped for the Buffalo Sabres.

The trade may well stand as then-general manager Bob Gainey's canniest move.

Gorges will soon be due a steep raise from his current $1.1-million (U.S.). Like fellow defencemen Roman Hamrlik and Andrei Markov, he's entering a contract year.

"Is it? I didn't know that," he said, tongue firmly in cheek. "A lot of people, friends, family, have asked about that over the summer. This is the first time I've been in a position where a contract year means something."

At the same time, Gorges is resolute on keeping his mind clear of contract clutter. "I don't want that thought in the back of my head."

If the Canadiens' defence corps is nearing a crossroads of sorts, there are several youngsters who are trying to force their way into the team's medium-term plans.

Most of the attention has been lavished on offensive dynamo P.K. Subban, but the Habs will also cast a beady eye at hulking 18-year-old Jarred Tinordi, the 22nd pick in the NHL entry draft in July.

The 6-foot-6 defenceman is far from the finished article, but has performed well enough to draw compliments from veterans such as Gorges.

"I've already come up to a lot of guys on the team and said, 'You've got to watch this kid play.' For how big he is, his ability to skate caught my eye right away, but he also makes good decisions," Gorges said. "He's been unbelievable at camp so far."

Tinordi, who will play for the OHL's London Knights this season, is just one of a raft of recently acquired youngsters who will have a chance to strut their stuff in the exhibition opener Wednesday night against the Boston Bruins.

Montreal native Louis Leblanc, the Habs' first-round pick in 2009, will also have the chance to play before friends and family in the building where he was drafted.

"It's a dream for any kid who grew up in Montreal to play in the Bell Centre," the 19-year-old said, later adding: "I'm not sure how this works, do I get two tickets?"

The town of Dégelis, Que., hard by the New Brunswick border, will be watching for 19-year-old favourite son Gabriel Dumont, a 2009 fifth-rounder who has impressed with his tenacious play.

And Aaron Palushaj, a minor-league forward acquired from the St. Louis Blues last season for Matt D'Agostini, will get a plum assignment.

The 21-year-old played alongside Tomas Plekanec and fellow University of Michigan alumnus Cammalleri at practice, and is expected to start Wednesday night on that line.

"Those are two pretty easy guys to play with," Palushaj grinned.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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