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MTL@WPG: Ben's back in town

Defenseman Ben Chiarot was all smiles at the morning skate ahead of his first game against his former team

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

WINNIPEG - Ben Chiarot has been eagerly anticipating his return to Southern Manitoba for quite a while.

The 28-year-old defenseman played 305 regular-season games for the Jets over six seasons before signing a three-year contract with Montreal on July 4.

"I've known about this game for a long time now. It's an exciting game for me. I'm excited to give it to some of my old friends, excited to be back in this rink and this city," said Chiarot, following Monday's morning skate at Bell MTS Place. "A lot of formative years of my life and good times were here, and a lot of good memories, so I'm excited to be back."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: ��videmment, c'est un ancien des Jets qui m��ne les ��tirements �� Winnipeg.Of course a former Jet would lead the stretch in Winnipeg.#GoHabsGo

As expected, Chiarot spent the Canadiens' day off on Sunday catching up with some of his former teammates.

He had dinner with defenseman Josh Morrissey. When asked if Morrissey was a good cook, though, Chiarot had a little fun at the Jets' alternate captain's expense.

"Well, he doesn't cook his own food. He signed a nice new contract, so he's got someone cooking his food for him," he joked. "It was nice catching up with Josh and his girl, so thanks to them for dinner."

While being back in Winnipeg brings back plenty of good memories for the seven-year NHL veteran, he's grateful to be sporting a Canadiens jersey.

And it hasn't taken him long to wholeheartedly appreciate the significance of the CH.

"It's a special feeling throwing on that jersey. It's my favorite thing about being a Montreal Canadien," mentioned Chiarot. "It's the same one they've been wearing for 100 years. It's pretty unique and it's iconic in hockey. I feel lucky that I get to wear it every day."

Video: Ben Chiarot on his return to Winnipeg

Likewise, head coach Claude Julien feels fortunate to have Chiarot on his roster.

The veteran bench boss acknowledged the steady progress the former fourth-round selection has made since October.

"His first month was a bit of an adjustment to our team, but since then he's taken off and he's probably playing his best hockey I've seen him play," praised Julien. "He's very confident in all areas, from our own end and even offensively. He's obviously enjoying playing with Shea Weber a lot. They've been a good match and they seem to enjoy playing together."

Chiarot is certainly in agreement there. He loves his situation right now, averaging 23:38 of ice per game thus far this season and taking care of business alongside the Habs' captain.

"The team has given me a lot of responsibility, and they have a lot of confidence in me. Playing with Shea Weber makes things pretty easy, and having Carey Price back behind you is pretty comforting," explained Chiarot. "The team appreciates what I do and the game that I bring. I think it's a combination of things that has been going well for me."

The wait is finally over

After missing the last 10 games with an ankle injury, defenseman Victor Mete is returning to the Canadiens' lineup on Monday night.

The 21-year-old Woodbridge, ON native hasn't seen game action since November 30 when he went down against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Spending the last three weeks on the sidelines was disappointing, but he's finally ready to rock.

"It was tough. Obviously I wanted to be on the ice, but you can't always get what you want," said Mete, who has three goals and eight points in 26 games this year. "I came back earlier than expected, though, so I'm happy with that."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: BIG NEWS#GoHabsGo | @vmete98

His objective against the Jets is just to keep things simple and find his groove again as the game rolls on.

"I'll just kind of play my game and play where I left off, get into the game fast and just take it from there," he mentioned. "I'll maybe try to give the boys a bit of a boost. They played a lot, especially the defensemen played a lot of minutes, so hopefully I can come in and contribute to that and have a solid game."

As for his playing partner, rookie Cale Fleury has drawn the assignment.

"I'm going to keep it the same [as when I was playing with Shea]," explained Mete. "Cale's more of a physical kind of guy, too, so I can hopefully skate the puck a lot."

Video: Victor Mete on his return to the lineup

Starting strong matters

The Canadiens dug themselves some serious holes in Calgary and Edmonton, affording their opponents 2-0 leads in the first period.

While they managed to fight back on both occasions, that clearly isn't a recipe for success.

"It's something we'd like to have, a better start," admitted Julien. "We mentioned it, now it's up to our team to make sure that we're ready and ready to play on our toes tonight."

Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference @ WPG

That's especially important given the bevy of offensive weapons the Jets have at their disposal, from Mark Scheifele to Patrik Laine to Kyle Connor to Blake Wheeler.

Brendan Gallagher knows full well that falling behind again could prove costly.

"It's always tougher starting on the road. The home team has energy from the building. But that's the challenge, you've got to do the job. You've got to take pride in taking the energy out of the building and killing their momentum right away," emphasized Gallagher. "We've got to play well, execute, and start on time."

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