By RANDY PHILLIPS
Habs rookie defenseman Ron Hainsey has heard the talk, but knows it doesn't mean much until the season starts.
As much as Ron Hainsey has made a impression in the Canadiens' training camp, he isn't about to let things go to his head.
The rookie defenceman leads the team in scoring with three goals and one assist after three pre-season games, and while he's heard the talk of how he has a good chance to stay with the team once the regular season begins, he isn't stocking up the champagne in anticipation of that day.
'There are lots of guys who can play here,' Hainsey said yesterday after a brisk practice in preparation for tonight's exhibition game against the Boston Bruins at the Metro Centre in Halifax.
'There are plenty of NHL defencemen here, so while the talk is there, it doesn't mean too much until the season starts,' he said.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hainsey is a native of Bolton, Conn., whom the Canadiens selected 13th over-all in the first round of the 2000 NHL entry draft.
The 21-year-old, who starred with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell of Hockey East two seasons ago, played with the Canadiens' affiliate Quebec Citadelles last season, where he scored seven goals and compiled 31 points and 26 minutes in penalties during 63 games.
This is his second training-camp stint with Montreal.
'The second time you have a different attitude, because you know what to expect and how the process is going to go,' Hainsey said. 'Obviously the more games you play, the more comfortable you feel out there with these guys. That comes with anything. So on a couple of different levels I'm definitely more comfortable than I was last year.'
Hainsey said failure to make the club the first time around was disappointing, but not devastating. 'Sure there's the initial disappointment when you're told,' he said. 'But two days later, when you're with a different team and you've got games to play, it's a quick recovery process because you've got to get right back out there.
'All you can do is work hard and try to get back as quickly as you can. There's not really much moping around and feeling sorry for yourself.'
Hainsey said that while he came to camp in better shape physically, the mental side is more important.
'You can do all the lifting (weight training) and other things in the world to prepare yourself, but if you're not preparing the right way, it's really not going to do you any good,' he said. 'One of things you have to realize is that you can't control everything, so you've just got to go out there and focus on what you're trying to do.'
Hainsey is likely to fill a spot currently up for grabs because of the absence of regular Sheldon Souray, who is going to miss all of training camp as he recovers from a wrist injury.
Since the start of camp, Hainsey has been paired along the blue line with Stéphane Quintal and the 14-year veteran likes what he sees in the rookie.
'He has great vision, can make plays and is very mobile. That's his game,' Quintal said. 'What I like about him is his level of confidence. When he's on the ice, he's sure of his play. He's not afraid to make plays and try different things. That's what I think will earn him a spot on the team.
'He doesn't go out there being afraid to make a mistake, which is something that happens a lot to young guys and then they get into trouble. But Ronnie just goes out there and plays his game.'
Hainsey said Quintal's experience and guidance also has been a factor in his own play.
'There's no substitute for the amount of time Stéphane's had in this league,' said Hainsey. 'It's helped me a ton. I can only imagine what it would be like if I wasn't playing with him.'
Mathieu Garon is expected to start in goal tonight against the Bruins, who the Canadiens beat 5-4 in a feisty encounter at the Bell Centre Monday.
Left-winger Bill Lindsay will also be in the lineup, replacing Eric Chouinard, who is out with a groin injury.
Defenceman Patrice Brisebois, who's only played one game, is out for another week with a sprained knee.