MONTREAL – There’s one scene, in particular, Phil Varone replayed over and over in his mind recently when it became clear he was signing with the Canadiens.
The events occurred on February 21, 2019 at the Bell Centre when Varone was still a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Honestly, I have that picture in my head being on the bench the last game we played there last season when the Canadiens were skating out to Coldplay. I don’t get nervous playing hockey, but that’s one thing that gives me goosebumps and gets me fired up and ready to go,” said Varone, who agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract on Wednesday. “That’s one thing that sticks out when I think about playing in Montreal. To be on the other end of that, wearing that jersey, would be special.”
In order to experience that again come October, the 28-year-old Vaughan, ON native and eight-year pro would have to crack the Habs’ roster out of training camp, of course.
And after playing a career-high 47 games with the Flyers last season, his resolve to ply his trade solely in the NHL ranks going forward is off the charts.
“If it’s not your goal, I don’t understand what you’re striving for and what your goals are,” said Varone, who registered three goals and seven points in Flyers’ colors after being recalled from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms in December 2018. “I feel like I didn’t really show what I could do at the NHL level last year. I’m a pretty determined player right now and I think everyone will see that come camp and moving forward.”
The former AHL MVP is eager to contribute to the Canadiens’ cause and prove his worth from the start.
“I’ll do whatever they need. I know in the minors I’ve been able to score, but I wouldn’t say necessarily that’s my game. I take pride in faceoffs, shutting down other guys and killing penalties. I love killing penalties as much as I love being on the power play,” mentioned Varone. “If there’s a hole that needs to be plugged, I can definitely move into a spot and do that. I’m hoping to be able to show that I can do that.”
There were a few key reasons why the veteran centerman chose to pursue his career in Montreal.
Chief among them was perceived fit and past experience playing against his new employer.
“I’m a smaller guy, but I have skill and I play with grit. It seems they build their team on that. As far as guys being small in stature, they play a lot bigger than they are. That’s not always appreciated, but you can tell in this organization that it is,” explained Varone, who stands 5-foot-10 and tips the scales at 193 pounds. “Playing them last year, they’re relentless, they fly around, they’re hard on pucks. You also saw a huge growth in the team. It’s going to be good.”
Being reunited with Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson was also a factor in returning north of the border.
Richardson was Varone’s bench boss with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators in 2015-16.
“I was with Buffalo and I got traded to Ottawa and sent down to Binghamton. He made it real easy right off the start. As soon as the trade happened, he gave me a call and said, ‘Hey! I’m going out to dinner. Would you like to join me?’ You could tell right off the bat he’s a very genuine guy with his players. He’s the type of guy you’d run through a wall for,” praised Varone. “He demands a lot, but he’s always there to back up his players. If you make a mistake, he’s the first guy to pick you up. He’s one guy that I’ve always remembered playing for.”
He’ll also have former teammates aplenty to connect with upon his arrival, including Joel Armia, Jordan Weal, Dale Weise and Christian Folin.
Both Maxim Lamarche and Michael Pezzetta of the Laval Rocket are Varone’s good buddies as well. He actually trains with Pezzetta in Toronto during the offseason.
“For a youngster, the kid’s a beast,” said Varone, of Pezzetta as a training partner. “He’s someone that actually pushes me a lot because of the way he handles himself in the gym.”
Make no mistake about it, though, Varone is primed to deliver the goods.
“I know I can show more. I know I can prove myself,” concluded Varone. “I look forward to doing that with some new fresh eyes on me. That’s the plan.”