Last fall, the Hamilton Bulldogs held their training camp in St.John's, Newfoundland. I was there to do some interviews with the 'Dogs hopefuls, and while I was standing in the hallway outside the dressing room, a little guy carrying a couple of sticks and a blowtorch approached the tool-covered table beside me. He smiled and asked if I'd like to borrow the blowtorch. After assuring him my blowtorch needs were minimal, we struck up a conversation. He was a really upbeat and funny guy but when I asked him what he wanted from his first year as a Bulldog, he answered quietly, "I just want them to take a chance on me."
The kid was David Desharnais, bypassed in the NHL draft because of his height, (generously listed at 5'7") even though he put up 374 points in 262 games in the Q. After junior, he headed off to the Cincinnati Cyclones and proceeded to set a rookie scoring record in the ECHL, with 106 points in 68 games. The Habs invited him to training camp two seasons ago, and liked him well enough to sign him to a two-year, two-way deal. Last year, his AHL rookie season, Desharnais played 77 games and put up a respectable 58 points, good for fifth among the league's first-year players. He came into Montreal's camp again this fall and impressed again, flying on the ice and making some very nice passes. He also proved he's not afraid to go to the dirty parts of the rink with bigger players.
Unfortunately, the glut of small players at centre, and in scoring roles generally, with the Habs meant Desharnais didn't really have a great shot at making the big team out of camp. Even worse for him, he broke his foot in the Dogs' final preseason contest, missing the first month of the season. He's been back in the lineup for four games now, and has scored three times also addeding a pair of assists. Five points in four games might not sound like spectacular numbers, but they're more than solid. Here's what coach Guy Boucher had to say after Desharnais' first game back with the Bulldogs:
"Offensively (Desharnais) was our best player in that game," said Boucher. "He had a tremendous camp with Montreal and he just picked up where he left off. He's one of those guys who changes the pace of the game because he's extremely good at seeing open spaces and attacking them. He makes the game faster and then makes it slower. I thought I'd give him maybe five shifts in the game and I ended up double shifting him."
Now that the Habs' doctors have confirmed Brian Gionta is gone indefinitely with a broken foot, the team finds itself short one goal-scoring midget. I think this could be the chance for which David Desharnais has been waiting. He's a good skater, a natural point-producer and an all-around tough little bugger. Considering the facts that the Habs are desperate for an offensive spark and that Sergei Kostitsyn seems to be banished for the time being, there's really nobody else in Hamilton who fits the bill. Ben Maxwell, maybe, but he's a different sort of player than Desharnais. The little guy is the kind who plays with heart and fire and skill...reminds me a bit of Gionta, actually. And nobody in Hamilton will play harder for the Habs than the Quebecois kid who never expected to play in the big league but always dreamed about it anyway. Seriously: what have the Canadiens got to lose at this point?
After I said goodbye to Desharnais on that fall afternoon last year, I sat in the stands and watched him play a pre-season game. The 'Dogs lost, but they scored two goals. One was off a beautiful cross-ice pass by Desharnais. The other was scored by the little guy himself, as he drove to the net, was tripped, but continued to push the puck ahead of him, flipping it over the goalie as he slid into the crease. I've seen a lot of goals since then, but I can still picture that one clearly. And I can still see the glint in his eye when he proclaimed the only thing he wants is a chance.
I'd like to see him get it.