MONTREAL - When Nate Thompson was notified that the Canadiens were interested in bringing him back, his message to his agent was clear and concise.
"I told him 'I want to get this done. I want to go back to Montreal,'" said Thompson, who agreed to terms on a one-year, one-way contract with Claude Julien's contingent on Thursday. "I had no intention of going to free agency. This is the team I wanted to play on."
The 34-year-old centerman's love for his brand new hockey home is well-documented. Even though he only joined the fold in early February following a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, Thompson quickly settled in and made quite a strong impression on the Habs' brass. The fact that general manager Marc Bergervin wasted little time locking him up for the 2019-20 campaign is proof positive of that.
"I felt while I was there that it was a good fit for me. I got to play my role in a great way," said Thompson, who registered one goal and seven points in 25 games for the Canadiens, and won 55.1% percent of his faceoffs as well. "I was really just chomping at the bit to come back. It's one of those groups where it's not hard to jump in and to have fun with the guys right away. The core group that they have - the older guys, the younger guys - it's just one of those special groups that you just want to be a part of."
The fact that the Canadiens are trending in the right direction is just one of several reasons why Thompson insisted that testing the unrestricted free agent market come Canada Day wasn't even on his radar for a second.
"I'm just so excited to come back because of where our team is headed," insisted the 12-year NHL veteran, after contributing to the third largest season-to-season point improvement in franchise history. "Everyone on the team, and you could feel it throughout the room, that guys were disappointed. More importantly, though, guys are mad, guys are angry, guys already want to get going and already start the season now because you could feel the hunger from everyone, including myself. We want to get back to work, we want to have a big season, and we want to build off of what we did last year. We want to continue to get better and make the playoffs."
Video: TBL@MTL: Thompson buries shot from slot
It's just that kind of passion and competitive spirit that made Thompson feel perfectly at ease with his new teammates from the get-go. And it didn't hurt that they were an enjoyable bunch to be around, too.
Case and point is the Anchorage, AK native's rock-solid relationship with the likes of Max Domi and Tomas Tatar.
Shortly after the season came to a close, the trio spent some quality time together in Southern California where Thompson and his wife, Sydney, reside during the offseason.
"When we had our last dinner in Montreal with all of the staff, coaches and family, Max and Tuna were talking about going to Coachella. That isn't too far from us. It's only a couple of hours away. Max and Tuna pretty much talked my wife and I into it and we made the decision to go," explained Thompson, who made his very first trek to the annual music and arts festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA. "It was one of those spur-of-the-moment things. We had a really good group with Max and a few of his buddies from back home, Tuna and his girlfriend, and Sydney and I. It was a lot of fun."
They rented a house in nearby La Quinta, CA during their three-day stay, which gave Thompson, Domi and Tatar some bonus bonding time, so to speak.
"We played some backyard games and Tuna wanted to do this pushup pyramid thing. I said 'You guys go ahead and I'll film it.' To be honest, they didn't last very long," said Thompson with a laugh. "The pushup pyramid thing was kind of a bust. Being "Uncle Nate," I kind of knew that was coming, so that's why I kind of backed off and filmed them instead."
That's right. Given his age and playing experience, Thompson has affectionately earned that nickname over the last few months. Domi even referred to Thompson as "Big Bro" in a congratulatory Instagram post on Thursday once news of his good buddy's signing broke.
Admittedly, the Canadiens' second-eldest player at season's end is cool with both monikers. It's a sign of respect.
"It's great. I'll take it. All the guys were great. I think I'm the oldest guy on the team now, so guys like Max and Tuna are going around with the nicknames," cracked Thompson. "Shawzy likes to give me a hard time about my age and tell me that I'm the papa. I'm good with it, though. As long as I can keep playing, I know I can keep up with all of these young bucks."
That respect is wholeheartedly mutual when it comes to Thompson's appreciation for both of his fellow Coachella attendees.
"From the moment I got to Montreal, especially Max, I don't know what it was, we kind of hit it off. He's one of those kids, he's mature beyond his years. When I hang out with him and we're talking, I always forget that he's just 24 years old. I think he has an extremely bright future and a long career ahead of him in this League. He's an ultimate pro. You can't say that about a lot of guys his age that are already ultimate pros like he is," praised Thompson. "Tuna, too. He's one of those fun-loving guys. We play cards together on the plane. He's one of those guys where it's kind of infectious, you want to be around him because he's always in a good mood and he's always laughing."
Given all of these positive vibes, it should come as no surprise that Thompson's motivation level is off the charts with a big summer of training ahead.
"I just want to get better. My expectation is to have the best year of my career, whether it's statistically, helping the team get wins and then make the playoffs. That's my expectation," affirmed Thompson. "I've always had high expectations of myself and that's a reason why I think I'm still playing, because I've always wanted to push myself to get better. I know everyone says I'm "Uncle Nate" and I'll be 35 in the fall, but I still feel like I've got a lot of hockey left in me and I can continue to get better."