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|15 сентября 2005
Perezhogin flying - Canadian Press
By BILL BEACON
MONTREAL (CP) - Alexander Perezhogin hasn't forgotten the stick-swinging incident that saw him banned for a year from the American Hockey League, but the Kazakh winger is hoping to put it behind him.
The 22-year-old was flying on the opening day of the Montreal Canadiens camp on Wednesday - his first official skate in North America since he was suspended by the AHL during the 2003-04 playoffs for a vicious slash to the face of Cleveland Barons forward Garrett Stafford.
Perezhogin, who spent his AHL suspension playing with Jaromir Jagr in the Russian league, had several scoring chances in an intra-squad scrimmage while playing on a line with captain Saku Koivu.
But he couldn't beat either of the two sharp goaltending prospects - Yann Danis and Jaroslav Halak.
The Canadiens are hoping the six-foot, 185-pound winger is ready to step into their lineup this season and step out from under the cloud of controversy he left behind in the minors.
"It's very difficult to forget," Perezhogin said through an interpreter. "Sometimes, I still think about what happened."
During a playoff game for the Hamilton Bulldogs on April 30, 2004, the usually mild-mannered Perezhogin, after he was hit on the back of the head by Stafford's stick, wheeled and swung his stick straight into his opponent's face.
The incident was replayed countless times across North America, much like a similar event the same spring - Vancouver forward Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Colorado's Steve Moore.
The main differences were that Stafford was not seriously injured and the attack was clearly not premeditated. Perezhogin contended that he swung for the lower body and got Stafford in the face by mistake.
Still, he was suspended for the rest of the playoffs and the entire 2004-05 season.
"That was an AHL decision, I don't want to comment on it," was all Perezhogin says about it now.
It also went to court. The case ended in June in Hamilton, where Perezhogin received a conditional discharge for assault causing bodily harm, which left him with no criminal record.
However, an Ontario Court judge put him on 12 months probation and ordered him to donate $5,000 to a charity and $2,500 to the Barons to cover Stafford's medical expenses.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien said he hopes the case is closed for good and has no plans to discuss it with the player.
"That episode is over, he's paid his dues," said Julien. "We have to let him play his game.
"I don't think it's necessary to bring attention to that. We're kind of sensitive to the issue and understand that maybe it's going to take him a little time to feel comfortable, but we're OK with that."
Stafford, who was suspended for six games for his part in the stick-swinging, recovered fully and played in the AHL last season.
At the same time, Perezhogin joined Avangard Omsk in Russia, where he skated on a line with Jagr as the New York Rangers forward waited out the NHL lockout.
Perezhogin had 33 points in 43 games in the low-scoring league.
"All I know is that he's a pretty good skater," said Canadiens winger Alex Kovalev, who spent the lockout season with Kazan in Russia. "All he has to do is believe himself and take an important role in his hands.
"He has to know he can be good in this league."
Grandstands were packed at the Pierrefonds Sportsplexe as the team invited fans to watch their workout. Kovalev stole the show, setting up a goal by Corey Locke and beating Jose Theodore for a goal on a pretty move from in close.
"That was an accident," Kovalev said. "I didn't know where to go so I closed my eyes and made a move."
He was not surprised to see a full house, despite fan anger during the lockout.
"People said fans would stay away because of the lockout but I said right away people in Canada are anxious to see hockey, they love hockey, and if it took two years, people would miss it and they would come -whether it's a practice or a game," he said.
Mike Ribeiro also had a goal while playing with impressive 18-year-old Guillaume Latendresse, a six-foot-two winger who stood out for his physical play and his skill.
Latendresse is best known as the player chosen second behind Sidney Crosby in the QMJHL midget draft two years ago. The Drummonville Volitgeur was drafted in the second round in June by Montreal.
"The young guy Latendresse really impressed me," said Theodore. "So did the goalie Halak.
"It's good to see our young guys come in and play well."