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Montreal Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov speaks to reporters as the team reports for medicals Friday Sept. 17, 2010, in Brossard, Quebec.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz (Ryan Remiorz)
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov speaks to reporters as the team reports for medicals Friday Sept. 17, 2010, in Brossard, Quebec.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz (Ryan Remiorz)

NHL Training Camp

Habs Markov on the mend Add to ...

For those who are into omens: newly acquired Montreal Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern smoothed "an easy 8-iron" off the tee to ace the par-3 second hole at the team's charity golf tournament.

So much for having to come up with conversation fodder in his new town.

It was the first time the 34-year-old has ever scored a hole-in-one (he summed up his approach as "just chuck it up there") and the Princeton grad played down its significance.

"I don't think it means much, hockey-wise," he smiled.

As Halpern will learn, fans and pundits will be the judge of that.

The Maryland native and the rest of the team's veterans - and a sizable knot of rookies - were put through a gruelling set of fitness tests Friday at the official opening of the team's training camp, which features 58 players.

On-ice workouts begin Saturday, but there will be at least two notable absentees - defenceman Roman Hamrlik is carrying a knee knock that will likely keep him out for two or three weeks, and talismanic rearguard Andrei Markov is still recovering from late-season knee surgery.

It's not yet known when he'll be back, but Markov said Friday he's making progress.

"In my dreams, I want to come back tomorrow, but I can't. Maybe another month, I don't know, maybe more, maybe less," he said.

Though the team showed last year it can still keep its head above water without him, Markov's teammates will have been encouraged to see him in the gym, where he has been rehabbing aggressively.

But not without respite.

"Not seven days [a week] I'm a Canadian now, I work five days a week," laughed the 31-year-old, who became a Canadian citizen this past summer.

That Markov likely won't be ready for the season opener at Toronto's Air Canada Centre is probably a blessing in disguise - Ontario's capital city is hazardous to his health.

Last season, a seemingly innocuous collision with Habs goaltender Carey Price on opening night in the same venue resulted in a sliced foot tendon that kept him out until December (he missed a total of 37 games).

The previous season, he suffered a left knee injury at the ACC with just four games left in the season when he was taken into the boards from behind by former teammate Mikhail Grabovski. The Habs lost all four of their subsequent contests, and were swept out of the playoffs in four games by Boston.

The 31-year-old Markov's most recent injury - to his right knee - came in the first game of the conference semi-final against Pittsburgh when he was hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke.

Though he was expected to be out as long as six months following surgery (in Cleveland, Ohio - he used his brand new Canadian passport for a follow-up visit two weeks ago) it appears he could be back sooner.

"I feel pretty comfortable on the ice. I can do pretty much every movement, but some movements feel weird a little bit, and not that comfortable, like I want to," said Markov, who bemoaned the fact he wasn't able to play soccer or tennis, as he does most summers.

"I did my rehab every day, that's enough for me. I spent four or five hours every day in the clinic," he said. "It's not easy, you get tired of that sometimes, it's boring as well. But you have no choice, you have to do this and have to be stronger."

The all-star blueliner is also entering a contract year, like Hamrlik, and though all indications are that the lifelong Canadien wants to remain in Montreal, he offered no such public commitment on Friday.

"My preference is to stay healthy," he said when asked whether he'd prefer to stay put. "Guys, it's too early to talk about that."

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