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P.K. Subban honored in return to Montreal

Predators defenseman commended for hospital fundraising commitment one day before facing former team for first time

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- P.K. Subban has always known how to make an entrance.

From the time he was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (No. 43) in the 2007 NHL Draft and told then-general manager Bob Gainey that they made the right choice, Subban has had the ability to make an impression and have it stick.

But this was different.

Subban returned to Montreal on Wednesday, one day before facing his former team with his new team, the Nashville Predators, for the first time at Bell Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, FS-TN, NHL.TV).

The defenseman emerged in the most public way possible, in a ceremony at the P.K. Subban Atrium of the Montreal Children's Hospital so he could receive a Meritorious Service Decoration from Governor General David Johnston to recognize the $10 million fundraising commitment Subban made.

The hospital was a place Subban visited regularly during the hockey season when he played for the Canadiens, but hasn't had the opportunity to this season.

"The last time I was in the hospital was too long ago," Subban said.

Subban was one of 13 people honored for being "extraordinary people who make Canada proud." Subban makes Canada so proud that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Montreal native and devout Canadiens fan, tweeted at him to congratulate him on the award.

"My mom was crying," Subban's sister, Nastassia, said. "I'm trying to hold back tears. It's truly special."

As he went up to receive his medal from Johnston, who holds the symbolic position of being the representative of Canada's official head of state, Queen Elizabeth, we did not see the trademark showmanship Subban usually pulls out in front of a crowd so large.

He was humble, subdued and beaming with pride.

"Right now it's got to be at the top of my list in terms of experiences for me, to have my family, my mom, my dad, my sisters there, my whole team, it was pretty spectacular," Subban said. "For me it's the highest honor I've ever had in my life, so pretty special."

The place was packed and showed the stature Subban still holds in the city, which is what makes the game Thursday so intriguing because it will be the first time many of his fans will have a chance to express how they feel about him since he was traded to the Predators for Shea Weber on June 29, 2016.

One fan at the ceremony, Pierre-Luc Cantin, was wearing a half-Canadiens half-Predators jersey with Subban and the No. 76 on the back. After the ceremony, Subban spotted him and signed the back, once on the Predators side and once on the Canadiens side.

"I'm freaking out right now," Cantin said.

Subban's day continued with a press conference at Bell Centre, and as he entered he put on a big smile and said, "Bonjour." After meeting with reporters, Subban planned on returning to the hospital with teammates Roman Josi and Mike Fisher to reconnect with patients and staff before eating at his favorite restaurant.

It is not often a player returning to Montreal after a trade holds a press conference because it is not often required. It was on Wednesday, and Subban answered questions for approximately 20 minutes about how much he misses the city of Montreal, how he regrets not being able to fulfill his promise to win a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens and how he is enjoying the Nashville chapter of his life.

"I'm very honored and happy to know that in the Mecca of hockey, fans still support me and are behind me," Subban said. "It's a great feeling."

We will all get to see just how much support he has on Thursday.

It will be Subban's first game against the Canadiens because he missed their visit to Nashville on Jan. 3 with an injury, a game Montreal won 2-1 in overtime and featured an in-game video tribute to Weber that nearly drove him to tears.

It is unclear what, if anything, the Canadiens will do to recognize Subban, but there is likely to be several emotional moments for him as well.

"Obviously I look forward to playing in a building in front of fans that I played in for so long, played some big games in, had some fun games," Subban said. "Probably the thing I look forward to the most is hopefully Madame Beliveau there."

That would be Elise Beliveau, the widow of Jean Beliveau who loved wearing her Subban jersey to Canadiens games.

It is yet another sign of just how adored Subban was in Montreal, and is one of the many reasons he loved playing here.

"To wear that jersey is an honor," Subban said. "There's no ice in the building right now, it's covered up, but you don't have to see the ice to know what this building means. You just look up in the rafters and see the names and the jerseys. That's what it's about. That's why we play the game, it's for the history, and we want to be a part of that history. And we are a part of it."

Subban is indeed a part of Canadiens history, and will always remain so. 

But Wednesday showed that Subban will always be a part Montreal's present as well, one who continues to have a major impact from a distance.

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