Stu Cowan: Another shot at Stanley Cup for former Hab Ben Chiarot

“I loved being a Montreal Canadien,” defenseman says after trade to Panthers. “The city, the Bell Center, living in Montreal, all of it.”

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It can be easy for fans to forget sometimes that pro athletes are also people.

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Ben Chiarot provided a reminder Thursday morning when he brought his 2-year-old daughter, Emmerson, up on the stage with him in Brossard’s Bell Sports Complex media room less than 24 hours after the Canadiens traded him to the Florida Panthers.

“The last time she was in here, she was 2 weeks old,” Chiarot said. “It was right after I had signed (with the Canadiens as a free agent) and we all kind of jumped in the car and came down here (from Hamilton) to see everything. So it’s been some formative years in her life de ella spent in Montreal and something that we’ll be able to talk to her about when she’s older.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in front of the camera today, so I’m getting some time in with her before I leave here,” Chiarot added. “This is her her first time on the stage.”

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When asked if he had thought about having Cole Caufield babysit Emmerson in the locker room while he took questions from the media, Chiarot smiled and said: “No, I wasn’t leaving her with any of those young guys.”

After spending five seasons with the Winnipeg Jets — Chiarot signed a three-year, US$10.5-million contract with the Canadiens — saying he enjoyed playing in a Canadian market where hockey matters, he was excited to join an Original Six team and that nothing could compare with playing Saturday nights at the Bell Centre. Being so close to his hometown of Hamilton would also be good for his family.

“I loved every minute of it,” Chiarot said Thursday about his time in Montreal. “I loved being a Montreal Canadian. The city, the Bell Center, living in Montreal, all of it. The whole package, it’s a great place to be a hockey player. For the rest of my life, I’ll be happy that I played here.”

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The 30-year-old defenseman can become an unrestricted free agent this summer and it was clear the Canadiens were going to move him ahead of Monday’s 3 pm NHL trade deadline. In exchange for Chiarot and paying half his remaining salary, the Canadiens get a first-round pick at the 2023 NHL Draft, a fourth-round pick this year and 20-year-old forward Ty Smilanic, who has 13-9-22 totals in 38 games this season with Quinnipiac University. The Panthers selected the 6-foot-1, 177-pound Smilanic in the third round (74th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft.

GM Kent Hughes said he wanted a first-round pick in 2023 in exchange for Chiarot because the Canadiens already have two first-round picks this year and should have three picks among the first 35.

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Hughes said he knows Smilanic well from his four years in the Hockey USA development program, where he was one year ahead of the GM’s youngest son, adding he also watched him play a few times this season. Hughes said Smilanic is a smart, fast player who can score and fits into the type of team the Canadiens are trying to build.

Chiarot goes from the worst team in the NHL to the second-best and has a legitimate shot of advancing to the Stanley Cup final for the second straight season. The Panthers wrap up a West Coast trip Friday in Anaheim and then don’t play again until next Thursday against the Canadiens at the Bell Center, which is when Chiarot is expected to make his Florida debut.

“I think any time you’re wearing one uniform one day and then a different one the next, it’s going to be a little strange,” he said. “If anything it will be maybe a little easier for me being in kind of a comfortable setting being in the Bell Center and being somewhere I’m pretty comfortable just wearing a different uniform. So if anything it will be good for me to be having my first game here.”

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Chiarot said it will be difficult leaving his Canadian teammates behind, but the trade will be harder on his family. He noted it will be up to his wife, Jacqueline, as to whether they join him in Florida, stay in Montreal or return home to Hamilton, adding there have n’t been any discussions with the Panthers about their plans for him beyond this season.

“We kind of knew this was coming pretty much since early this year,” Chiarot said about the trade. “Still, when it happens it’s a little bit overwhelming and more so from a family’s perspective how we’re getting everything down there and what are you doing with the family and just all the logistics that kind of come with getting traded. That’s kind of the overwhelming part for the family. But I walk into a (locker) room, have immediate friends, kind of know where I’m going every single day, have things to do every single day.”

Years from now, Emmerson probably won’t remember sitting on his father’s lap the day after he was traded from the Canadiens to the Panthers.

But there will be photos and her dad can tell her stories about Montreal.

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