(Blainville) The general manager of the Canadiens, Kent Hughes, said it clearly in the end-of-season report: “Our expectations are changing. More recently, owner Geoff Molson added, “Expectations will be higher. »

Just over a month after the last game of a long and disappointing campaign, the organization’s senior management couldn’t be clearer about their intentions for next year.

Will that translate into, as Hughes put it, a “push” to the playoffs? That remains to be seen. What is certain is that Nick Suzuki is delighted with the public posture of his bosses.

Met Tuesday morning at the Bauer Innovation Center in Blainville, the captain of the Canadian did not mince his words. The last two seasons, concluded among the worst teams on the circuit, have been painful. “We’re tired of losing and finishing last,” he said in a brief interview with La Presse. We have to start winning again. The next season will be important for us. »

He insists that his work and that of his teammates “does not change”, “no matter the time of year or management’s plans”. That being the case, “it’s good to hear that the management and the owner want to start earning more,” he said. “It motivates us. »

“We saw, at the start of last season, the team we could be. Injuries have changed everything, but I always have high expectations. With the players we have, our style of play and our coaching staff, we can definitely push for the playoffs. »

Suzuki, in fact, is already back on the ice with a few teammates at the team’s training center in Brossard. He and Kaiden Guhle and Josh Anderson will spend the summer in Montreal, where young players from the club will join them over the next few weeks.

Conversely, Jake Allen and David Savard are currently training with the group, but should leave for their respective provincial capitals – Fredericton and Quebec – after the end of classes.

The news didn’t make a big splash, but the 23-year-old Ontarian was awarded the Sakura Prize last week, awarded by the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto. This distinction rewards each year people who have contributed to the promotion of Japanese culture in Canada or abroad.

The organization having decided to highlight the contribution of athletes this year, Suzuki shared this honor with hockey player Vicky Sunohara, three-time Olympic medalist, and former footballer Bill Hatanaka.

“My grandfather was super proud; it means a lot to me, “said the young man about this award, presented at a gala in the Queen City.

One whose great-great-grandparents immigrated to Canada defines himself as “one-quarter Japanese” on his father’s side. His immediate family is “Canadian first,” he says, though he’s fully aware, if only by his last name, of what his presence in the upper echelons of professional hockey means to the community of Asian descent.

Few players of this origin evolve in the NHL, but the presence among the stars of the league of players like Jason Robertson, Matt Dumba and Nick Suzuki, among others, contributes to positively change the face of a still predominantly white sport.

He realizes that he can be a role model for young athletes of Asian descent. “I have one of the most popular names in Japan,” Suzuki points out. If they see highlights from a player with that name, it can make them want to persevere in hockey. »

He also dreams of going to Japan one day and organizing hockey camps there. He has already been able to measure the effect he can cause when, in 2020, he met the players of a Japanese team who came to participate in the Quebec pee-wee tournament. “It was really cool,” he recalls.

The Canadian captain concludes by expressing the wish to have a “positive impact” on the younger generation. It probably already is, when you think about it.

Nick Suzuki has been following with interest the recent NHL lottery that awarded the Canadian the fifth pick in the upcoming draft. “We’ll have a very good player,” he said confidently. From the outset, he mentions the names of Will Smith, Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson among those who excite him the most, although “a few defenders seem to be pushing to reach the top 5”. He himself will probably travel to Nashville for the draft session. Kaiden Guhle will also be there, while his brother-in-law Riley Heidt, of the Prince George Cougars, could well be drafted in the first round. “Kent Hughes got a few guys to go…that should work out.” Nashville isn’t too bad,” Suzuki laughs.