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Max Pacioretty speaks up, steps up in concussion fight

Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty (67) drives toward the goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, March 5, 2011, in Tampa, Fla.

Brian Blanco

On balance, he'd rather be identified with something a lot more fun.

But, sometimes, people are swept up by life-altering events. And since the night his head rammed into a Bell Centre stanchion to devastating effect, Montreal Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty has taken up a new cause.

"Given my situation, I feel like I'm able to voice my opinion on [head shots] I was a prime example of a situation that went wrong," Pacioretty said at the Habs annual charity golf tournament.

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The 22-year-old Connecticut native's involvement also goes beyond advocating for ways to eliminate incidents like the hit from Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara that left him with a neck fracture and a severe concussion.

"I'm in the process right now of working with the [Montreal]General Hospital and starting a foundation into research and development for brain trauma," he said. "It's something I definitely want to be a part of given my situation, given how it's such a hot topic right now and given it can change the game."

Pacioretty's voice is one of several to be heard among the NHL's emerging generation of stars – players like 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven Stamkos and, most recently, 24-year-old Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar who continues to be sidelined by concussion-related problems.

"Young players are a big part of the league now … it's good to see people are beginning to listen to us, and I think it's going to help the game as well," he said.

That the discussion is taking place amid the fallout of a grim summer for hockey – and that a player of Crosby's standing is calling for an outright ban on blows to the head – may even herald a subtle cultural shift.

As veteran winger Michael Cammalleri put it: "These conversations are going on in the room now, where it used to be taboo."

"It allows other players now to come out and say, 'Okay, it's not uncool to say what I really believe, and I'm not a soft player because I don't think we should have head shots, I'm not a player a general manager won't want on his team,' " the high-scoring forward said, later adding: "I have no problem with taking a good slash or chop … but when it comes to the brain, let's not be ignorant."

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Pacioretty pronounced himself in top form, which is the best news of all for the beefy power forward, who spent much of his summer working out with Habs prospect Aaron Palushaj and former NHL most valuable player Martin St. Louis of the Lightning.

"I'm fully confident I'm going to come in this year and be just as good as last year, if not better. I've had a long time to work out, to think, to work on my skills, and I think it's going to go a long way this year," he said.

September is the month of optimism on the hockey calendar, and with the addition of former Carolina Hurricanes winger Erik Cole, another big, physical type, ambitions are high as the Canadiens prepare for the opening of training camp on Friday.

General manager Pierre Gauthier thinks enough of his team, which finished sixth in the Eastern Conference last year and came within a goal of beating eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston, that he made only one major move (signing Cole).

Scott Gomez, who is trying to banish vivid memories of a catastrophic 2010-11, said continuity is a strength for the Canadiens.

"This is the third year together for most of the guys, we've shown flashes, now from the start of the season we've got to put it together," the veteran centre said.

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The Alaskan held up his hand after Montreal's playoff exit, and vowed to turn it around – the $7.3-million (U.S.) man scored just seven goals and 38 points last year. He spent much of the off-season training in Los Angeles and New York, and Habs fitness coach Pierre Allard checked in on him – and other players – regularly.

"I put in the work, I'm ready," said Gomez, who looks noticeably fitter than when the season ended.

Carey Price, who joined the NHL's goaltending elite last year, said the atmosphere around the team (most of the players have been skating together in pick-up games for almost three weeks) is as good as ever.

"We've got a really tight club … we've got to be looking at ourselves as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference," said Price, who rested as much as possible this summer after playing in 72 games, curtailing his annual off-season rodeo schedule. ("I did all the close ones," he said with a smile.)

But the Habs do face a few questions as they embark on a new season.

Defenceman Andrei Markov's surgically reconstructed knee isn't yet well enough for him to skate with the team, and marquee rearguard P.K. Subban skipped the golf tournament because of "a minor upper-body injury".

"Don't worry," he said, "I'll be fine."

A third defenceman, Josh Gorges, wasn't about to test his surgically repaired knee on the links either, but said he's champing at the bit after eight months of inactivity.

And centre Lars Eller is also working his way back from shoulder surgery, but Gauthier said: "There are players rehabbing, we don't think anyone is going to miss any significant time."

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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