Fans bang on the glass as Canadiens right wing Brandon Prust skates by during an inter squad game at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday, January 17, 2013.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, The Gazette
MONTREAL - I have a feeling the lineup to join the Brandon Prust Fan Club is growing in Montreal.
And if you want to get in line, you’ll need to stand behind Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, among others.
But the president of the Brandon Prust Fan Club could be Dale Hunter, the man Canadiens fans loved to hate when he played for the Quebec Nordiques.
Hunter coached Prust when he played junior with the London Knights and still remembers a quote from Prust when he was an 18-year-old walk-on with the team in 2002-03 after being overlooked at the Ontario Hockey League draft.
“I really love the line where he said: ‘Put me in and you’ll never take me out, coach,’” Hunter recalled over the phone Friday afternoon from Ottawa, where the Knights beat the 67’s 11-1 on Thursday to improve their league-leading record to 36-8-3.
“I said: ‘OK, Prustie, you’re in.’ We went into a tough barn in Windsor and he scored and he fought and the rest is history ... now he’s in the National Hockey League. He’s one of those kids that had to prove himself and he’s done it again and again. He came to (training) camp and to be noticed he did whatever he could. He fought a few times and stuff ...
“I use him as a speech to my young guys all the time,” added Hunter, who is back coaching the Knights after finishing last season behind the Washington Capitals bench. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-round pick or whatever it is ... coaches love kids that will do anything for the team. It’s not just fighting … he can score big goals for you, he cycles the puck well, he blocks shots and makes big hits to get the team going … he does the little things that all coaches love.”
Therrien has been using Prust on a line with Galchenyuk and Gallagher, and while Prust has already dropped the gloves twice he has also shown he is much more than just a tough guy, setting up Galchenyuk for his first NHL goal while racking up 16 penalty minutes and posting a plus-1 after three games. He definitely brings back memories of former fan favourite Chris Nilan.
Playing with skilled players is nothing new for Prust. When the Knights won the Memorial Cup in 2005, Hunter used him on a line with future Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry. But in the Cup final against Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Océanic, Hunter moved Prust to a checking line.
“Prusty did everything to win,” Hunter said. “I took him off the top line and he was fine with it ... he did whatever was needed for the team. His line played the final game against Sid the Kid and we shut him down and won 4-0.
“He’s good enough to play with the top players because he can make plays … and he can protect guys like Corey. He’s a unique player and I’m so proud of him … we’re all proud of him here (in London) for what he has become.
“He’s a great guy. He’s one of these guys who has charisma, he makes you laugh and he’s a hard-working kid in whatever he does. He trains hard … he’s one of those kids you’re proud to be around.
“He’s great in the dressing room ... he’s a leader,” Hunter added. “I think he’ll help that way in the (Canadiens) dressing room ... keeping players accountable.”
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin signed Prust to a four-year, $10-million free-agent contract this summer, which might seem like a lot of money for a player who posted 5-12-17 totals last season with the New York Rangers to go along with 156 penalty minutes and a minus-1. But players like Prust are hard to find.
“It’s hard to find guys who can actually play and contribute to the team besides fighting and protecting your teammates,” Hunter said. “He’s one of the unique players who can do both. He’s a guy who’s worth every penny because of what he brings to the game.
“He can really cycle the puck ... and a big part of the game now is cycling and bringing the puck to the net and jamming in goals. He’s also a great penalty-killer because he will sacrifice himself. That’s what he did with the Rangers and he’s very good at it. Teams miss those kind of guys when they’re gone … as a team you miss the guys who do the little things to win. The Rangers are going to miss him because he was a big part of that team.”
Hunter chuckled when it was mentioned that Prust’s good looks could attract a lot of women to his Montreal fan club.
“He’s been playing hockey all this time and he hasn’t got the nose like I do,” Hunter said with a laugh.
And for Canadiens fans who are just getting to know Prust, here’s a final message from Hunter:
“He’s a heart-and-soul kid … he’ll do anything for the team. He puts the team ahead of anything. If the team needs a fight to lift the team he’ll do it … if it needs a big hit he’ll do it … block a shot … he does the intangibles that coaches love. He’s heart and soul … he’ll play with the young kids and he’ll help them.
“He gives you confidence. We played against him last year in the playoffs against the Rangers … he was doing everything. He would block a shot with his face if it saved a goal … he’s that kind of kid. He did that with us here (in London) and he continued it in the National Hockey League.
“Montreal will love him because the fans will see that.”
The line forms on the right.
Does the name Ogie Ogilthorpe ring a bell? Now there’s a movie being made about the real-life player behind the character from the movie Slapshot. Read more on Stu Cowan’s blog at montrealgazette.com/stuonsports
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