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Long road back to Canadiens satisfying for Streit

Defenseman says its 'big honor' to return to Montreal after nearly decade away

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

LAVAL, Quebec -- Defenseman Mark Streit is entering his second tour of duty with the Montreal Canadiens, so the question had to be asked: 

"Did you keep much Canadiens stuff from a decade ago?" 

"I still have my [Canadiens] hockey bag," Streit said, flashing a grin Monday morning, speaking before Montreal's annual curtain-raising golf tournament. "I have jerseys, shorts and stuff. I kept a lot of things." 

The follow-up question, about saving the Canadiens a bundle, never even reached its conclusion before Streit jumped in.

"No, no, I didn't bring it with me," Streit said, laughing. "I want new stuff." 

Chances are fresh equipment won't be an issue for Streit, who signed a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent on July 25.

For Streit, 39, it is a return to the organization that gave him a chance in the NHL 13 years ago. Montreal drafted the Swiss native in the ninth round (No. 262) of the 2004 NHL Draft. 

Streit played three seasons for the Canadiens, from 2005-08, then four more with the New York Islanders and four with the Philadelphia Flyers before being moved to the Pittsburgh Penguins via the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2017 Trade Deadline in March. 

Streit was part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup-championship team last season, before opting to return to the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent. He was often a healthy scratch, playing in three Stanley Cup Playoff games.

On Monday, he joined his new (old) team at Laval-sur-le-Lac Golf Club, north of Montreal, for its golf tournament. The annual event is a key fundraiser for the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation, which does important work throughout Quebec for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. 

The golf outing is also the first occasion since the end of the season to hear from management and the players about what lies ahead on the eve of training camp, which opens Friday at the practice facility in Brossard.

Having lived in the fishbowl that can be Montreal during his first three NHL seasons, Streit knew what to expect when he pulled up to the clubhouse on Monday. 

He still got a kick out of the scene: the gathered media mob, morning shows broadcasting live, a guitar-bass-drums trio entertaining and hockey Twitter melting down under perfect, cloudless skies. 

Of course, the clouds will be thick and threatening the first time the Canadiens lose two games in a row this season, but this is Montreal, after all. 

"It's tough to put in words," Streit said of returning to his NHL roots. "Playing for the Canadiens is unique, it's a big honor." 

Gone a decade, he saw a few familiar faces Monday: Claude Julien, who was his coach the first half of his maiden NHL season and returned last season as the replacement to Michel Therrien, as well as goalie Carey Price and forward Tomas Plekanec. Youppi!, the team mascot who like Streit was a Canadiens rookie in the 2005-06 season. 

Video: TBL@PIT: Streit buries Crosby's feed in Pens debut

"When I got here in 2005, Saku [Koivu] was the captain; we had [Alex] Kovalev, [Craig] Rivet, [Sheldon] Souray, a lot of veteran guys, older guys," Streit recalled. 

"Time goes fast and a team changes its face. But it's great seeing Carey, the kind of player he is now. He was 18 then, and now he's the best goalie in the League. [Plekanec] is still here. I was really excited to see both of those guys. And working with Claude … he helped me out a lot at the beginning, it's great that he's back as well." 

Streit admitted that he's surprised to still be in the NHL, realizing when he arrived in Montreal for the 2005-06 season as an older player from the Swiss pro leagues that he may not have many chances to impress. Now, he's a veteran of 784 regular-season NHL games, 205 of them with the Canadiens. 

The experience gained in this city during those three seasons, he believes, will help him now as he returns to Montreal's hockey cauldron, one turned up a few degrees by the departure of veteran defenseman Andrei Markov this offseason. Markov, 38, who spent the past 16 seasons with the Canadiens, was not re-signed and signed with Ak Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League.

"It certainly helps that I experienced everything here," Streit said. "When I came here 12 years ago, nobody knew me and I didn't know anything. It was such a big challenge, a big step. 

"There were ups and downs my first year. Sometimes it was hard, sometimes it was even harder. It was a grind but at the end of the day, every day, every second, you suck it up and work as hard as possible. I never expected to be here this long and I'm very grateful for it."

Streit loves the cosmopolitan flair of Montreal, a European city in North America. He laughed about having gone for a walk downtown during the weekend, hours after having arrived, and being recognized by a restaurant owner who had greeted him in a different place fully a decade ago. 

"It's a small world," Streit said. "You can walk through some big cities in the U.S. and not a lot of people will recognize you," he said. "In Montreal, it's certainly different." 

There's early talk Streit will have a place on the power play. His ability to move the puck is one of his strengths. 

"You've got to put your work in at training camp," Streit said. "You need to earn your spot and your ice time and role everywhere. We'll see. I just want to help the team and do the things I can do out there and have a great season. 

"I feel like I'm coming home a little bit. I started here 12 years ago, so being back is an incredible story. I'm really psyched. This is a franchise with so much history, so many great players in the past. The Canadiens have won so many Stanley Cups (24), so being able to come back where it all started for me is a Cinderella story, kind of."

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