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Rambler's Top100

19 января 2013 года.
Markov, touch wood, is healthy; Playing in Russia revitalized him // The Gazette

Stubbs, Dave

The story of the day stood on a wooden box in the Canadiens dressing room so he could be seen by this rolling ocean of cameras and microphones and notebooks, conversing with the unruffled ease of a seasoned veteran.

The thing of it is, Alex Gal-chenyuk is a month shy of his 19th birthday, a major-junior Sarnia Sting superstar who's the veteran of precisely zero professional games.

His excellent adventure was to begin in roughly 30 hours, Galchenyuk's maiden NHL contest coming in the Habs' nationally televised season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Not far away was another young forward, grinning goofily as the attention found him in smaller if steady waves. Brendan Gallagher, a comparative fossil of 20, had survived the Canadiens' morning cut of seven players; the Hamilton Bulldogs rookie - all of three dozen pro games beneath his belt - will begin the season with the Habs, if not necessarily in Saturday's starting lineup.

That Canadiens' traditional training-camp headline Andrei Markov is not major news heading into the first of 48 games this shortened season is a big story unto itself.

There's no need to catalogue this veteran defence-man's miseries of the past few seasons beyond relating that he's played just one season-opener the past three years, skating in only 73 of the Canadiens' 272 games since 2009-10.

But now, touch wood, Markov is healthier and fitter than he's been in as long as anyone can remember. The 34-year-old Russian will be a vital part of the Canadiens defence this season, a rock-solid defender and the quarterback of the team's power play that finished 201112 ranked a gosh-awful 28th at 14.3 per cent.

Two knee reconstructions are so far behind Markov that he says he never gives them any thought. None.

Two ribs that he cracked in late October while playing 21 lockout games in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League are healed, not worth the breath to mention them.

Indeed, Markov is almost disgustingly healthy on the eve of the 2013 NHL season.

You mention this to him, as he heads to the Bell Centre parking garage after Friday practice, and the grin starts to spread.

"You can't be completely healthy, you know," he said. "I'm getting old!"

The veteran of 685 NHL games, exactly 685 more than those played by young pups Galchenyuk and Gallagher combined, is laughing by now, a man who enjoys a good joke.

"Of course," he added with much less mirth, "I'm happy to start right from the first game. I'm looking forward to it.

"The games I played in Russia were huge, especially because I didn't play many the last two years. Playing in Russia gave me confidence in myself. I feel good and I'm ready to go."

Markov forever will be viewed by critics as an injury looking for a place to happen; the same anterior cruciate ligament blown out twice in rapid succession tends to give a guy a reputation - no matter than both injuries were not clumsy tumbles down the stairs but rather freak accidents suffered in a rugged sport.

"When I step on the ice, I don't try to think about any health problems," Markov said, his summer of rehab with a team led by athletic therapist Scott Livingston having realigned and strengthened his entire body.

"For me, it's a hockey rule: if you step on the ice, you have to give 100 per cent every time, whether you're healthy or not."

This season is almost a little deja-vu for Markov, who is reunited with Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien.

It was with Therrien that Markov broke into the NHL as a 22-year-old in 2000-01, Therrien coaching 62 games that year to replace Alain Vi-gneault, Markov playing 63.

When the two men renewed acquaintances in early September, Therrien had a simple question for his two-time all-star: "What's happened to you the last 10 years?"

More than Markov could shoehorn into that discussion, obviously, but now they're back together.

If the coach knows the player is a different man, so has Markov seen this training camp that this isn't the Ther-rien of old.

"Everybody changes over the years and I'm pretty sure he has more experience as a coach and a person," Markov said.

"It's good to work with him. It looks like we'll have a good system if we're all on the same page."

An hour earlier, Therrien had spoken glowingly of Markov, especially that his season is, for a rare occasion, beginning with Game 1.

"I like what I've seen from Andrei," he said at the end of a six-day training camp. "He looked really solid out there. I like the plays that he makes with the puck.

"When Andrei feels good, he's on the ice. In practice, this is where he's capable of expressing himself, in games the same thing. He's our leader on the back side, and it's such a big plus for our club to be able to start with Andrei, something we haven't been able to do the past few years."

Markov surely feels the love of fans, his absence having made many hearts grow fonder during his rehabilitations.

In Thursday's Bell Centre scrimmage, he scored a shootout goal with a straight-ahead, unglamorous shot through the pads of goalie Peter Budaj, then returned to the bench with a little hot dog flapping of his arms, cranking up the cheers.

"We have unbelievable fans, the best in the world," Markov said, speaking on the eve of the Bell Centre's first meaningful game since the Habs beat the Leafs April 7 to close out 2011-12.

"Every time you step on the ice and you feel the support of 21,000 people ... it's a great feeling. I can't describe it."

On Saturday, as the spotlight shines brightest on teenager Alex Galchenyuk, Markov will begin his latest road back.

"One game at a time," he said, choosing well the vanilla cliche. "I'm going to play hard and have fun. You know, it's time to enjoy hockey."

Страничка Андрея Маркова на сайте "Звёзды с Востока"


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