Guillaume Latendresse experienced his first setback as a member of the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.
The left-winger had his evening cut short in the Wild's 5-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena when, midway through the second period, he absorbed a high stick in the back of the head from Red Wings defenceman Brian Rafalski.
Latendresse was taken to hospital for precautionary measures, but the injury was not considered serious. He rejoined his teammates for the bus ride to the airport and may be available to suit up Friday in Buffalo against the Sabres.
It was the first hiccup for the 22-year-old Latendresse since the Montreal Canadiens dealt him for Benoit Pouliot last Nov. 23. The trade has worked out for both teams: Pouliot has 14 goals and 20 points in 26 games for the Habs; Latendresse has set career-highs with 21 goals and 30 points in 41 games for the Wild.
"No, I don't miss [playing for the Canadiens] at all," Latendresse said. "I think I've found my home here.
"I thought I would miss Montreal. But this is a great opportunity, great fans. It's a great place to play."
Montreal can be a great place to play, too. But for Latendresse, a local francophone from the South Shore, it was a difficult situation. He was drafted in the second round in 2005 and made the Habs as a 19-year-old but never got on track.
He blames ice time and opportunity. He enjoyed the odd stint on the Canadiens top two lines, but, for the most part, his ice time was limited and that made it difficult for Latendresse to live up to expectations.
"For sure, it was not easy," he said. "You're a guy who got the ice time of a third or fourth liner, but they expect you to put up the points of a first or second liner. That was hard."
With the Wild, Latendresse has meshed with Martin Havlat and centre Andrew Ebbett on the team's second line. Latendresse also sees time on the power play.
"I'm playing with the same line for more than one period," said Latendresse, a shot at the Canadiens. "Having the opportunity to play with the same pair of players has allowed me to create some chemistry."
He especially has had chemistry with Havlat.
"He's a guy who wants the puck, wants to carry the puck," Latendresse said. "So I just need to get open and he finds me."
Minnesota coach Todd Richards remarked that his newcomer simply is an athlete who is performing with plenty of confidence right now and he doesn't see an end to impressive play as long as Latendresse continues to utilize his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame. This was a criticism for him in Montreal.
"Sometimes when you score some goals, you think that's all you have to do is score goals," Richards said. "But he is a big body that can lay some licks on guys. That has to be first and foremost in his game because that gives him space and time.
"If you have go out there on your first shift and hammer a defenceman, they get a little nervous every time you're on the ice and you're creating turnovers. He has to have that element in his game."
'Leave it to him to act like a child'
Prior to Thursday night, Latendresse had seven goals in his past 10 games. Until this impressive play with the Wild, Latendresse was more known for other matters. He was the first player in NHL history to don sweater No. 84. His girlfriend is popular Quebec singer Anne Villeneuve, who sang the French version of the Vancouver Olympic theme song, J'Imagine (I Believe). In Latendresse's rookie season, he also had a war of words with Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy.
When Latendresse cracked the Montreal roster as a teenager, Roy remarked that the only reason was because he made the Habs was because he was a francophone.
After Latendresse scored his first NHL goal against the Edmonton Oilers in November 2006, he took the opportunity to fight back against Roy.
"It's me who's supposed to be 19, not him," Latendresse said. "I will act like a man. I'll leave it to him to act like a child.
"I don't know why he's acting like that. I've never spoken to him. He should be delighted by the success of young Québecers in the NHL, instead of making stupid comments."
Latendresse, whose older brother Olivier plays for the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL, claims that he knew three weeks before he was traded that someone – he won't identify whom – slipped him the news that he was going to the Wild for Pouliot. Latendresse was enjoying an afternoon shopping when Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey phoned him about the trade.
"I was prepared," Latendresse said. "But it was weird.
"I thought the day that I would be traded from Montreal, I would be sad. But I was happy and it put a smile on my face, just to have that pressure lifted off my shoulders."
Latendresse likes everything about his new setting in hockey-crazed Minnesota. He has a townhouse just a two-minute drive from Wild's rink in downtown St. Paul, Minn. But he did admit that he will return home as soon his NHL season winds down to be with his girlfriend and the son that he had with a previous girlfriend. He also confessed that he keeps a watchful eye on the Canadiens and friend and former teammate Max Lapierre.
"I try to watch them every chance I can," said Latendresse, a restricted free agent on July 1. "I still have my buddy [Lapierre] there.
"I grew watching that team. It's still my team. I love the Canadien."