MONTREAL - Nick Suzuki participated in a rather unique meet-and-greet at the Bell Centre on Sunday.
Shortly after the Canadiens Skills Competition presented by RONA was done, the 20-year-old centerman visited with the Japanese contingent heading to the annual Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.
Suzuki, a fifth-generation Japanese Canadian who is one-quarter Japanese, has quickly become a role model for this group of 11 and 12-year-old youngsters hoping to make their own NHL dreams come true someday.
"The kids were so excited to meet Nick because of his Japanese roots. He's a big source of pride for the Japanese community," said Japan Select head coach Taro Kurokawa. "They bought some Canadiens hats and some Suzuki T-shirts. They're all hoping to play in the NHL, so they wanted to ask a lot of questions."
No doubt seeing Suzuki in action against the Anaheim Ducks last Thursday night only made them bigger fans of the highly-skilled rookie.
He also opened the scoring with a pretty power-play marker as well, which made their first-ever NHL experience even more memorable.
Needless to say, Suzuki was thrilled to spend some quality time with Kurokawa's squad.
The London, ON native posed for pictures, signed autographs, and fielded every single one those questions with a warm smile.
"Just seeing those kids look up to me is really special. Hopefully they're playing in the NHL one day. Just to be an influence on them is really cool," mentioned Suzuki, who boasts 11 goals and 35 points in 57 games so far this season. "I just want to set a good example for the younger generation. I know there's a ton of people in Japan with the same last name and the kids recognize it, so it means a lot to be a role model for them."
Twelve-year-old centerman Yoshiki Chitose was ecstatic to spend a few minutes with his hockey idol.
"I'm one of his biggest fans and I dream to become an NHL player like him. It was really amazing to meet him," insisted Chitose. "He's a real playmaker. He doesn't just score goals. He also has great assists. That's kind of how I play the game, too."
Seeing the Japan Select players' faces light up with glee and enthusiasm had an immediate impact on Suzuki.
It even took him back in time a bit, so to speak.
"I was raised pretty much like any Canadian kid, but I actually got to be around my great-grandparents, who were from Japan, when I was a little kid. We met before they passed away," recalled Suzuki. "They moved to British Columbia and then made their way down to London. They're my ties to Japan, and I definitely want to get over there."
He's interested in helping to grow the game in that part of the world as well.
"In the future, I'd like to get on the ice with a bunch of kids there. I want to be out there supporting them," said Suzuki. "I see videos all the time of not just Japanese kids, but kids from all over Asia. The game's really growing, and I know the NHL is moving forward with games being played in China. I'm sure that'll spark a lot of things. Seeing these kids come all the way to Quebec is pretty special."
It certainly is, and we wish them nothing but the best in Quebec City and beyond!