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Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban warms up ahead of Saturday's game.Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE (Steve Mitchell/US PRESSWIRE)
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban warms up ahead of Saturday's game.Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE (Steve Mitchell/US PRESSWIRE)

Sean Gordon

P.K. Subban finding his way in the spotlight Add to ...

Like the song says, growing up is hard to do.

Try to imagine coming into your own as hundreds of thousands of people, who have invested their hopes, dreams and hard-earned lucre into your workplace, scrutinize your every move.

Add a passel of overheated armchair experts passing daily judgment and you approximately have what Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban deals with – in addition to learning how to defend against the best the NHL has to offer.

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To his detractors, Subban has a message: Bring it, I can take it.

“It’s not an easy city to play in,” he said Tuesday, “but I love it.”

The Canadiens were back on their practice ice after a day off, and it provided a succinct summary of Subban’s life these days: He was snarled at by assistant coach Randy Ladouceur (“wake up!”), became enmeshed in a minor tangle with teammate Erik Cole during a drill, and then spent long minutes answering insistent questions before ducking out for a Nike promotional shoot.

Castigated, knocked down, grilled and venerated, all in a tidy 90 minutes or so.

As is generally the case with young defencemen, there have been more downs than ups in Subban’s second full NHL season.

After experiencing the heights of playoff adulation, he has lately felt the unbridled wrath of a disgruntled fan base and a baying media pack bent on humiliating the guilty parties in what is rapidly becoming a lost season.

Subban has been singled out for his anemic offensive numbers, his on-ice gaffes and for things like a set-to with Ladouceur as he sat on the bench after a particularly egregious turnover against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week.

“I have a great relationship with Randy and I’d hate for [the media]to ruin that,” Subban said. “I’m a young guy and I need to be coached … he’s probably going to tear a strip off me again this year. Maybe a couple of times.”

It’s par for the course for a 22-year-old thrust into the role of No. 1 defenceman because of Andrei Markov’s continued absence through injury – Subban averages a team-high 23 minutes 55 seconds per game and plays on the top power-play unit.

If Subban is celebrated in Montreal for his swashbuckling play, he has also become a magnet for opposing fans’ ire and is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the more disliked players in the league.

For weeks now, the outgoing Toronto native has also been roasted nightly on Quebec’s sports-talk shows – where he is routinely labelled as a distraction and an attitude case. An influential La Presse columnist even went so far as to suggest Tuesday that Subban should be traded at the earliest opportunity.

“Even before I played my first game here there were trade rumours,” Subban said with a smile. “My job is to play hockey, not worry about that.”

Habs goaltender Carey Price has seen this movie – he starred in it a couple of years ago.

“You have a great rookie season, things are supposed to get better from there. … It’s tough when you have such high expectations and carry a big role on the team, it’s a lot of pressure for a young player,” said Price, whose second- and third-year struggles are well-documented. “You can only learn through maturing and going through it … being patient is the key. The only way you can get experience is time. It took me a year or two to figure that out and it’s helped me.”

Price sees his younger teammate’s evident talent, and suggested his critics should take a deep breath.

“He has a lot of potential, he has a few things he needs to sort out … mostly, he’s got to get some more experience,” he said.

In the meantime, Subban is tuning out the cacophony as best he can, and getting on with his apprenticeship, which head coach Randy Cunneyworth said has been accelerated by his increased responsibilities and ice time.

“It’s a positive … he’s been put under fire a lot, he’s handled a lot of situations and he’s gaining experience,” he said, later adding “it’s just part of the maturation of a young player.”

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