BROSSARD - Veteran Nate Thompson has attended his fair share of training camps over the years, but his level of enthusiasm this time around is especially high.
Why? Because the 34-year-old centerman, who sits just three outings shy of reaching 700 games played mark for his NHL career, realizes that at his age every opportunity to still play the game he loves is precious.
"It's funny, you get to this stage of your career, and it's almost like I feel like I'm 22 again because I'm excited like I was then. I was more excited than I've ever been for this training camp because I don't know how many training camps I'm going to have left, so I'm trying to cherish every single one," said Thompson, after undergoing physical and medical testing at the Bell Sports Complex on Thursday. "Being around the guys, doing this stuff, I want to play as long as I can. I'm just trying to enjoy every day."
An important part of that enjoyment factor for the Anchorage, AK native is actually battling for a job, and that could be the case again this year with a youngster like Ryan Poehling pushing to secure employment up the middle in Montreal.
That suits Thompson just fine, though. He's all about embracing competition for roster spots.
"Every year I've gone to every camp, I've always had to earn everything I get. I've never come into camp thinking my job is safe. I've continued to have the same mindset going into camp, knowing that I have to play well," explained Thompson. "It keeps me young. That's part of the reason I play, because I'm a competitive guy and I love to win. That's what I want. That's what we all want. I think guys pushing each other and competing for places in the lineup to play every night, that's all part of it. It hasn't changed for me since I started in the League. It's been like that every year and it's not going to change. I think it's a positive. I think our team needs that, and I think it's just going to make us better."
The fact that he'll be challenged in the coming weeks by a prospect of Poehling's caliber isn't going to deter him from assuming a mentorship role if called upon.
He's looking forward to being a valuable resource for anyone at training camp looking for insight and advice.
"I think helping other guys, helping young guys is a big thing. When I was younger, guys were helping me out because it's only going to make our team better. That's what we want here," affirmed Thompson. "We want everyone to be an important part of this group, and everyone will be an important part of this group. Every young guy, every older guy, we need everybody. I'm going to help as much as I can."
The bottom line is that Thompson is eager to play his part in making this edition of the Canadiens a real success.
And he believes the disappointment of failing to secure a playoff berth this past spring should be a prime motivator for all involved.
"I think we have something to prove. You finish with 96 points and only miss by a couple of points, it's tough, but it just shows you how good this League is and how good our division is. Guys should be mad, should be coming into camp and coming into the start of the season knowing that we have to build on it," insisted Thompson, who registered one goal and seven points in 25 games with the club last year after being acquired from Los Angeles in February. "We have to take it to another level."
Video: Nate Thompson on his mentorship role
Thompson's hunger to win with the Habs is well-documented, of course.
That's why signing a one-year, one-way contract extension took little to no time once the 2018-19 campaign was over.
"It's such a historic franchise, and playing in front of the fans and the buzz in the city, there's so many different things that brought me back here," affirmed Thompson. "I think the group of guys we have, and playing for the Montreal Canadiens, I think every guy in the League, if they did it once would say, 'I'm glad I got to do that.' It was kind of a no-brainer for me to come back. I enjoyed every second of it."
Talk about travelling in style…
Late last month, Thompson documented his return to Montreal from Southern California on Instagram with a rather cool post featuring his yellow lab, Eddie.
Eddie was given the rock star treatment aboard a flight from Los Angeles, enjoying some first-class love courtesy of a thoughtful flight attendant.
"That was pretty funny. We had those pods, and there were some extra seats available. I got him up on a pod and there was no way two of us were fitting in there, so I asked the flight attendant and she said, 'Yeah, go ahead and sit in the extra seat.' He had his own seat for the five-plus hour flight," joked Thompson. "People were taking pictures of him. I'd never seen anything like that before. It's a nice life for Eddie."
Thompson and his wife, Sydney, also have a miniature golden doodle named Iggy.