MONTREAL - When Peter Holland got his hands on his new Canadiens practice gear earlier this summer, he couldn't contain his excitement.
It was as if the 26-year-old centerman - who agreed to terms on a two-year contract on July 1 - was transported right back to his childhood.
"It might sound silly, but it's like a little kid on Christmas with all your new toys and you get to pull everything out of the bag, try it on and make sure it all fits," said Holland, who wasted little time before testing out his new duds after they arrived in his hometown of Caledon, ON. "I was home alone at the time, so I put my helmet and my gloves on and I looked at myself in the mirror. There's something special about putting on equipment with that logo on it. It really kind of hits your heart."
Holland also received a pair of hockey pants to complete the set for his test run in the new gear. The jersey, however, is something he's saving for the right moment.
"Hopefully, I earn the right to put on the real jersey come the season and then it'll really hit home," admitted Holland, who boasts 35 goals and 81 points in 243 career NHL games with the Ducks, Maple Leafs and Coyotes since making his debut with Anaheim in 2011-12. "It's cool the first time you wear it with your skates. You kind of put it all together. Cracking that opening-night roster and putting on that real jersey would bring that excitement again."
Holland certainly wasn't lacking in motivation heading into the offseason following an admittedly disappointing year. After seeing limited playing time in Toronto early on last season and suiting up for just eight games, Holland was dealt to Arizona on December 9, where he finished out the 2016-17 campaign before becoming an unrestricted free agent on Canada Day.
"Obviously, last year was a bit of an 'off' season for me. I wasn't happy with how things went. It was tough for me to find my footing and I was never sure if I fit in. I was kind of always on the outside looking in," explained Holland, who found himself watching from the press box in Toronto as the Maple Leafs' young studs blossomed and put up big numbers offensively. "I also didn't really appreciate the mental toll the trade was taking on me, the highs and the lows - and there were a lot of lows.
"One of my goals this year is to kind of find my feet again and be more myself around the rink. I'd like to come in and help complement the guys who are already there and help lead the team into the postseason," added Holland, who put up a career-high 27 points (9G, 18A) in 65 games in 2015-16. "I also really want to focus on being able to bring it every night. If you want to keep your job in the NHL, you have to do that."
In order to switch things up preparation-wise, Holland rented out his downtown Toronto condo and returned home to Caledon to train for the summer. Unlike previous years, though, Holland elected to work out on his own as opposed to with a group of fellow NHLers. It was a change Holland insisted he had to make.
"I'm out of the downtown madness, which I really wanted this summer. I didn't really want to be the guy walking around and people seeing the ex-Maple Leaf. It's a big hockey market. I just wanted to remove myself from that for a few months," said Holland, on his temporary move back to his roots. "I've been pretty secluded this summer. Training on my own has been refreshing. I've been going hard for quite a few months and I'm feeling really good."
It won't be long before Holland arrives in Montreal to battle for a job with the big club. He only has good memories of his time in the city as a both a visiting player and a draftee. In 2009, Holland and his family were in attendance at the Bell Centre as the Ducks made him the ninth-overall selection. He didn't forget that experience when it came time to put pen to paper with the Canadiens - and neither did his mother, Jude.
"On July 1, when we had a couple of offers on the table, my mom even mentioned the draft being in Montreal as a reason to go there, as something like an omen," concluded Holland, who would relish the chance to make Montreal his hockey home for years to come. "You want to try and prove everybody right. They signed me for a reason and I want to show them that they made a good decision. I would love nothing more than to be a Montreal Canadien for the foreseeable future."