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Stu Cowan: P.K. Subban's Montreal roots remain strong even as a Devil

 New Jersey Devils defenceman P.K. Subban gives instructions to teammates before a faceoff during NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 15, 2019.
New Jersey Devils defenceman P.K. Subban gives instructions to teammates before a faceoff during NHL game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 15, 2019.

New team, same P.K.

Before facing the Canadiens for the first time as a New Jersey Devil, P.K. Subban met the media Saturday afternoon at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and — as usual — answered questions thoughtfully and articulately for 16 minutes while dressed stylishly in a light brown vest and pants with a crisp white shirt and dark brown tie.

Earlier in the day, Subban was dressed much more casual in a Devils sweatshirt when he made a quick trip to the Montreal Children’s Hospital to visit a patient who hasn’t been doing well recently.

“We had a patient, Sandrine, who was actually part of our Inspired by the Brave (program) that we started with the P.K. Subban Foundation ,” the former Canadiens defenceman said. “She’s not doing too well. Usually in these situations on a game day I usually spend most of my time at the hotel. But my team does such a great job of keeping their pulse on things going on. I’m not here, so I don’t know everything that’s going on. I had an opportunity to head over there. She’s not doing too well, but hopefully we can get a big win for her tonight and make her feel a little better.”

Subban was held off the scoresheet Saturday night while logging 23:47 of ice time, but the Devils did win the game 4-3 in overtime.

“I spent some time with her father and brought her a jersey and she seemed really happy about that,” Subban said about his hospital visit. “The coolest part is her writing ‘hockey tonight’ on her iPad, which is pretty cool. It’s unfortunate to see a child like that, but we’re all praying for her.”

After the Canadiens traded Subban to the Nashville Predators in the summer of 2016 in exchange for Shea Weber, he kept his pledge from 2015 to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. At this year’s NHL Draft in June, the Predators traded Subban to the Devils in exchange for two prospects and two second-round draft picks.

Saturday night’s game against the Canadiens was only Subban’s fourth at the Bell Centre since being traded the first time. The Predators had a 2-1-0 record against the Canadiens in Subban’s first three games back in Montreal and he had three assists.

The Devils and Subban have gotten off to a slow start this season. The Devils have a 7-8-4 record after Saturday’s win, while Subban has 2-3-5 totals and is minus-6.

“Some seasons you start off hot, some seasons you don’t,” Subban said. “That’s just the way it is. But there’s 82 games that got to be played. I still believe that with our team — I’m sure there’s a lot of people that doubt us — I still think our team is going to make the playoffs. I really believe that. With the way we play, when we play consistently, we’re a tough team to beat.

“Personally, I think that there has been like an adjustment to our systems and stuff like that,” Subban added. “But I feel like I like where my game is and continuing to just grow and get to know my teammates better, understand guys tendencies and how they play. Those things can take a little bit longer. If I compare it to Nashville, when I first got there it was kind of a similar thing. The only difference was I was injured for a bigger part of the first part. But when our team figured it out, we figured it out and we ended up in the Stanley Cup final. So I think for our team, we’re continuing to learn every game, we’re continuing to get better. But we do have a lot of young players and we knew that going into the season. For me, I’m just trying to have a level of consistency every night for our coaching staff and for the team in hopes that that helps us with our growth.”

This was a short stay in Montreal for Subban since the Devils played Friday night at home, beating the Penguins 2-1, and only arrived at the Ritz-Carlton around 2 a.m. They were flying back to New Jersey immediately after Saturday night’s game.

Subban, who got a chance to meet new Impact soccer coach Thierry Henry on Saturday morning at the Ritz-Carlton, was asked what he misses most about living in Montreal.

“Oh, man, that’s a great question,” he said. “I miss a lot of my friends. A lot of the relationships that I built since I was drafted, a lot of great people here that I still keep in touch with, clearly. But I miss them. That was the toughest thing about the transition was just not being able to see the people that I leaned on every day, that I relied on every day.

“When I first got here to play in the NHL I had a lot of friends who looked over my shoulder,” he added. “I was very lucky to play here for a long time and have my fun — both on and off the ice — and have people looking out for me and steering me clear from the bad areas or the bad people. It’s in every city, right? I was very young when I came here, so all those people — whether they’re people who own restaurants, whether they’re friends, whether they’re realtors, whatever — I have friends in all walks of life and it just sucks that I don’t get to see them as much. But I’m still here … I’m still here enough.”

Subban will never be forgotten in Montreal, even though many fans at the Bell Centre Saturday night for some reason decided to boo him every time he touched the puck. It was a classless act toward a man who loved everything about Montreal, played his heart out every game and did so much good work for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He also never asked to be traded.

But the boo-birds at the Bell Centre are in the minority when it comes to how Montrealers look at Subban, who said he always feels welcome when he comes back to the city.

“I grew up a Habs fan, so I know how lucky I am to get those type of receptions because there’s a lot of players that don’t get that respect and love from the fan base,” Subban said Saturday afternoon about how he is regularly treated by Montreal fans. “I’ve said it before, I’m very privileged. It’s always overwhelming to come back because the love and the support is so strong. But I don’t take it for granted. I’ve played a lot of hockey here and I’ve done a lot of stuff here. So I’m just happy to be appreciated for the work not only I’ve done on the ice, but off the ice as well.

“That’s really where the basis of my happiness comes from coming back is just people appreciating what you do on and off the ice — and for an athlete that’s all you want.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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