Latendresse remains La big story in Montreal

Once again Wednesday, the Montreal media circus pounced upon Ottawa Senators left winger Guillaume Latendresse, pressing him for 15 minutes on every possible topic.

MONTREAL – Once again Wednesday, the Montreal media circus pounced upon Ottawa Senators left winger Guillaume Latendresse, pressing him for 15 minutes on every possible topic.

And why not? Latendresse, 25, is a native son with a gift for the gab in English and in French. He’s the only player in the Senators-Montreal Canadiens series to have worn the enemy’s colours in regular season and playoff games.

He’s the anti-Kessel. Latendresse is an open book; a book that includes several bitter-sweet chapters of his life when he was first anointed as the next great French-Canadian star here, only to suffer a great fall when he failed to live up to near impossible expectations.

Three years removed from his stint with the Canadiens – he was traded to the Minnesota Wild in November, 2009 – he remains a celebrity. His girlfriend, Annie Villeneuve, is a Quebec singing star.

The joie de vivre remains. Anyone who saw how he embraced a charity tour of the Northwest Territories during the lockout – dancing up a storm while taking part in native cultural events – could see it. When he won a crock pot in a raffle at a restaurant in Inuvik, he proudly raised the prize high in the air and walked around the building as if it was the Stanley Cup.

And yet for all that, Latendresse has put on a far more serious face ever since the Senators landed the Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is a business trip for Latendresse, plain and simple. With all due respect to his family and friends here, he has no interest in seeing any of them. He says there’s no down time for anyone except the other members of his team.

“I have to come in here and just think about what I have to do on the ice and make it like any other series,” he says. “For sure, it’s easy to say and it is different when it happens and you have to play against that team. But I don’t have to worry about who is in the stands, who I am going to meet after the game and worry about tickets and things. I won’t see anybody after the game and all the things I have to do will be with the team. That makes it a little easier on myself. I just have to do my job. Be around the net and make sure I create space for my linemates.”

Latendresse is expected to start the series on a line with Swedish rookies Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg. There’s a potential for the line to create some havoc against the Canadiens, who have struggled in their own end ever since losing defenceman Alex Emelin to knee surgery.

It’s also a chance for Latendresse to re-establish himself as a quality power forward, following a so-so season. He certainly didn’t live up to the hope that he could be top-six forward, again sidelined with injuries. He scored six goals and four assists in 27 games, missing 16 straight games in February and March due to whiplash. As the season wound down, he was in and out of the lineup, coming out when Senators coach Paul MacLean inserted Matt Kassian in against more physical teams.

“Everybody has pressure, but that’s part of being in the playoffs,” says Latendresse, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. “You have to raise your game. I’m part of that. Everybody is a part of that. As a team, we come here in seventh place (in the East) and we want to show everybody. It’s a good opportunity for us to play against a good team like Montreal.”

MacLean says Latendresse has the ability to create offence in the tough spaces where most playoff goals are scored.

“He’s a big guy (6-2 and 230 pounds) that can hang on to pucks and get to the net and he’s good around the net and below the goal line, he can do real good things,” MacLean says. “He’s also going to probably handle all the French interviews.”

The last part was a joke, but it’s also true that Latendresse will never skate away from his past. A Canadiens second round draft pick in 2005 (45th overall), he burst into the NHL as a teenager, scoring 16 goals as a teenager with his home town team, but fell out of favour when the numbers didn’t take off from there. In 12 previous NHL playoff games, all with the Canadiens, he has only one assist.

“For sure, when I signed here (in Ottawa), I didn’t think about that, that maybe one day we would meet Montreal in the playoffs,” he says. “But what else do you want for motivation? What else do you need? For sure, I’m going to be nervous, for sure I’m going to be excited, like it was my first year. I just want to make sure I bring that excitement, that fun to the game that gives me life and good feelings on the ice.”

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