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2018 WJC: Mete is a man without a team, but he has a gold medal

After capturing gold at the World Junior Championship, Victor Mete doesn’t know what’s next. But that’s not a bad thing with the Olympics in the picture.

BUFFALO – Victor Mete has no idea, no clue really, what the near or distant future has in store for him. Didn’t seem terribly concerned about any of it either. Gold has a way of doing that to a guy.

There are a whole host of reasons why Canada won the gold medal in the 2018 World Junior Championship. One of the key ones was Mete, who came to the team from the Montreal Canadiens and anchored an incredible shutdown tandem with Conor Timmins. The two were spectacular in Canada’s 3-1 win over Sweden in the gold medal game. And while the term shutdown defenseman might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Mete, don’t tell that to anyone at Hockey Canada. Of the 10 goals Canada allowed in the tournament, Mete was not on the ice for a single one. Granted, he played sparingly in the preliminary round win over Denmark and missed the quarterfinal against Switzerland, but in the five full games he played, he averaged 22:48 in ice time, second on the team to only Kale Clague.

“We think of him as a really complete defenseman,” said Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme. “He’s not the biggest guy, but there’s a reason why he played so many games in the NHL. He’s got a great stick, he can move really well and he’s smart.”

Must be something about the air in western New York, or specifically in the KeyBank Center. This was also the building where the Montreal Canadiens drafted him 100th overall in 2016 and where he played his first NHL game after surprisingly making the Canadiens out of training camp. “It’s a pretty good building for me, I guess.”

When Mete will next be back at his own stomping ground is anyone’s guess. The Canadiens play here next on March 23, but chances are Mete won’t be part of their contingent. With their season rapidly swirling down the drain, the Canadiens have the option of sending Mete back to the London Knights of the Ontario League, but that might be just long enough for him to shake hands with his teammates before leaving again. The trade deadline in the OHL is Thursday and the Knights look to be in the mood to deal for futures. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance both Mete and Canadian World Junior teammates Robert Thomas and Alex Formenton could be on the move as well.

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And regardless of where he ultimately ends up, there’s a chance Mete could be on the move again. The Canadian Olympic team is a real possibility for Mete, one that became even more likely when Canadian Hockey League president David Branch told thn.com that Hockey Canada has his league’s full support to take players for the Olympics.

“It would be pretty special, a crazy year for sure,” Mete said. “Jumping from team to team to team. It would be cool.”

Mete was a unique player in this tournament in that he was the only one from any country to be sent here directly from the NHL. Others had started the season in the NHL before being sent back to junior, but Mete was the only one who made the direct trip. You never know how someone is going to react to that kind of a move, particularly when it almost always involves being sent back to junior hockey for the rest of the season. But Mete felt at home with his teammates right away and said that bond was one of the reasons the team was so successful.

“We got really close really fast,” Mete said. “We all got to know each other really well on a personal level. You’re always going to remember a winning team, especially in the World Juniors. Everybody’s dream growing up is the same as yours, winning this gold medal.”

So for the moment, Victor Mete is a man without a team. But he is a man with a gold medal. And who knows what lies ahead? Another medal on the biggest stage in the world? Another run at the Memorial Cup? Uncertainty never looked so good.

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