MONTREAL - Defenseman Ben Chiarot still remembers the February 7, 2019 matchup between the Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets rather well.
And not for the best of reasons.
"When we came in here, they absolutely skated us into the ground," recalled the 28-year-old Hamilton, ON native, of the 5-2 defeat his Jets suffered at the hands of Claude Julien's contingent at the Bell Centre.
Video: Ben Chiarot on joining the Canadiens
That really opened Chiarot's eyes to the brand of hockey the Habs play when they're performing at their very best, and it certainly intrigued him when he was considering his options heading into free agency.
"This is a fast team and a young team, and you have the best goalie in the world in net. I think this is a team that's trending towards the playoffs," said Chiarot, who visited the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard for the first time on Friday since signing a three-year contract on July 4. "All of the pieces are here for us to be successful. It reminds me a little bit of where we were in Winnipeg a few years ago with some of the young pieces and guys like Shea Weber and Carey Price. I'll do my part to help on defense and add to what they already have."
According to the six-year NHL veteran, departing the Manitoba capital was also about seeking a new opportunity and preferably a more substantial role as well.
He's hoping to earn that role on the back end by continuing to make important strides as the season rolls on.
"I think I've shown I have more levels to my game. Speaking with Claude, that's something I want to do here. I want to reach another level. I don't feel like I'm done developing. I feel like I've got more levels to go, and I'm hoping to do that in Montreal under Claude and learn from some of the guys like Shea Weber. There wouldn't be a better guy for me to watch and learn from," explained Chiarot, who boasts 305 games of NHL experience since debuting in 2013-14. "I'm a big believer that you need to earn what you get, especially when you're new to a team. There's nothing given. You have to come in and earn your opportunities and your ice time. I don't think I'm any different than that."
Admittedly, the lure of calling the Bell Centre home for the foreseeable future was also super tough to pass up.
"I really enjoy playing in Canada in a place where it matters, and I enjoy the pressure that comes with having to perform every night. Playing on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, there's nothing that's quite the same. To do that every week was something I was excited about and it was a big reason why I came to Montreal," insisted Chiarot. "There wasn't much selling that needed to be done. When someone says you have the chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens, it's pretty special. I didn't need to be sold on anything to come here."
Interestingly enough, Chiarot's road to NHL stardom actually began at the Bell Centre when the Atlanta Thrashers selected him in the fourth round - 120th overall - back in 2009.
What's your number?
Chiarot arrived in Montreal on Thursday, making the seven-hour trek by car from his offseason home in Waterloo, ON along with his wife, Jacqueline, and one-month-old baby daughter, Emmerson.
The pair accompanied the blueliner on a private tour of the Canadiens' practice facility before he met the media in the dressing room and proudly donned his No. 8 jersey for the cameras.
So why did Chiarot choose to sport No. 8 for his new employer? It was somewhat a matter of necessity.
"I always wore No. 7 in the NHL, but it's retired on the guy back over there," joked Chiarot, referencing Hockey-Hall-of-Famer Howie Morenz's image on the dressing room wall. "I wanted a single digit. I wasn't going to ask Shea for No. 6, so I took No. 8. It was the only other single digit I could get, so I took it."
A sweet reunion
Since putting pen to paper with Montreal, several of Chiarot's teammates have reached out to welcome him into the fold.
"I played with Joel Armia in Winnipeg. He's a good friend of mine. I talked to him when I signed here," confirmed Chiarot. "Then, Nate Thompson reached out and texted me. I also skated with Max Domi a couple of summers ago back in Ontario. I knew a couple of the guys, but Army would be the one guy I knew the best."