LONDON, ON - Victor Mete felt very much at home in his first appearance in a Canadiens uniform on Saturday night.
After all, the 18-year-old defenseman was playing in front of the same fans at Budweiser Gardens who've been cheering him on for the past two years as a member of their beloved London Knights.
Even though the crowd on hand was rooting primarily for the Toronto Maple Leafs' young guns, Mete says he felt their unwavering support from start to finish. Having a few family members in the stands as well to give him an additional boost was certainly a bonus in his 2016 Rookie Tournament debut, too.
"The fans, they were all here to support me. My family came down, too. My parents just got back from California earlier in the day, so they drove in [from Woodbridge, ON] once they landed to come watch me play. I had my girlfriend there with her family. My cousins were there. Pretty much everybody was here to support me for my first game," said Mete, a fourth-round selection of the Canadiens - 100th overall - at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo.
And, Mete didn't disappoint. He registered two assists in the Canadiens' 4-3 loss, factoring in on William Bitten's goal in the opening frame, before picking up the primary helper on Artturi Lehkonen's marker that began a comeback bid early in the third period with the Canadiens down by a pair.
"I thought I was able to show my offensive ability and also play well in the defensive zone. I tried to limit them to as few scoring chances as possible," said Mete, the Knights' second-leading point-getter on the back end last year in both the regular season (38 points) and postseason play (11 points) alike, helping Dale Hunter's contingent claim OHL and Memorial Cup crowns during a memorable campaign. "I felt good out there. I felt like I was really into the game, jumping in and just playing my own style like I play with the Knights. It was fun."
Mete's stellar effort definitely caught the eye of Canadiens director of player development Martin Lapointe, who had a front-row seat to watch him get his first taste of tournament action at this level from behind the bench.
"Victor showed a lot of good things. He's very fast getting back on defense. His speed, though, is his main attribute. He's calm with the puck. He made some nice plays," praised Lapointe, adding that Mete's size at 5'9 and 174 pounds won't be a determining factor in his reaching his potential at the NHL level. "In today's game, the way it's played, it doesn't matter if you're small - as long as you can skate, you have hockey sense and you have vision. He showed that."
Admittedly, though, while Mete appeared composed on the outside, he was somewhat nervous coming into the tilt on the inside. That's only natural, of course. It's all just a part of a process that the OHL standout is grateful to be experiencing first-hand.
"As soon as I stepped on the ice, I kind of got chills. I thought - 'This is real life,'" said Mete, who sported No. 53 on his jersey. "With it being against Toronto, too, and playing in London, it was a big game for us. Obviously, it's also the next step forward for me in terms of playing against bigger men at a faster speed. I'm just going to keep representing the jersey as best I can."
With that in mind, there's nothing Mete would like more than a shot at suiting up in the tournament finale for the Canadiens on Sunday afternoon against the best and brightest youngsters in the Ottawa Senators organization. It would be the perfect finish to a nice weekend back in familiar surroundings.
"This building's always been kind to me," concluded Mete, who received a loud applause after being named the game's second star. "Coming in here [in September 2014] after getting traded from Owen Sound was kind of hard because everyone was expecting a lot. I was traded for six picks, so I really had to prove myself. The people [in London] have been nothing but good to me since."