Perhaps nobody watches more Canadian Hockey League action than Sam Cosentino. Sportsnet’s CHL game analyst travels from arena to arena to cover all three leagues, including the on-going Memorial Cup on top of research on teams he broadcasts.
Just this month, he has covered playoff games from all three leagues. He’s watched a lot of practices, and he says that Joël Bouchard's are unique.
“We pay particular attention to Joël Bouchard and his practices and in his practices with Blainville,” Cosentino said. “He does a lot of things that you don’t see a lot of in terms of paying attention to the smaller details of the game and practicing those things as opposed to your general flow drills, your general work on the power play, you do this and do that.”
“He’s really engaged in his practices and he practices a lot of the small details of the game. So when you look at his teams, they’re a perennial top-four team in the QMJHL yet they had trouble getting over the hump,” Cosentino said. “Ultimately what happens to his team is he gets the very most out of guys who are second chance guys, who have been cast off from other teams, who have been told they are too small or not good enough their whole lives and gets the very best out of those guys because those guys are willing to pay attention and work on the small details of the game so in terms of his coaching. If you generalize, his ability to get the most out of his players is amongst the best that I’ve seen in junior coaches in recent times.”
Those traits are great on a team where you have mid-round picks and undrafted free agents that you want to develop. A place the Canadiens have struggled in recent years. He also has experience with top prospects like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Drake Batherson, who he acquired during the season the last two years.
“The way he built his team is he makes it one line heavy. He knew that he would get tons of scoring on the power play and even strength with that one line and then used the rest of the group as those kind of underachiever type guys and try and mix in some skill without hurting the fortunes of the franchise down the road,” he said.
As for Ducharme, Cosentino loves the path that he took in junior hockey.
“He’s kind of seen it from all angles. When I think of that 2013 Halifax team, which is the last team to travel three time zones and win the Cup, I think about all he had to deal with,” Cosentino said. “Dealing with all of the star power, and the draft eligibles in [Nathan] MacKinnon and [Jonathan] Drouin. Dealing with a Bobby Smith and Cam Russell who are very Type A personalities and really good hockey people. But you’re managing the expectations of an owner and GM who have been around a long time. And you’re managing the stars so you’re managing what’s happening above you, you’re managing what’s happening below you. And you’re still finding a way to play an entertaining brand of hockey, get the most out of your guys and win a title. That’s tough to do with draft eligible guys. That doesn’t happen very often.”
“He’s intense, he lets you know what your role is and expects you to play that role. His basic foundation is hard work which isn’t really a departure from any other coach but that is continuously hammered in,” he said. “He’s managed stars, he’s experienced adversity, losing the silver medal two years ago and coming back to win gold with Canada this year. He’s worked with a variety of different people, he’s had success wherever he goes.”
After Ducharme left Halifax, he joined the Drummondville Voltigeurs who were a proud franchise but hit a downturn. But he left his predecessor in a very good position.
“Maybe the most telling thing about Dom is, he had such great support in Halifax with Bobby and with Cam and their ability to draft players and get players to come there. So when he leaves there he goes to Drummondville [...] and he goes in there as head coach and general manager. He has left, whoever ends up taking that job, with a wonderful situation. An awesome young team that is probably ready to take a major, major step next year so within two years, he goes there and he’s able to, as a head coach and general manager, entirely turn the fortunes of that franchise around.”
But you can’t help but think that both of them coming together is some sort of plan from the two, especially considering how quickly things turned around after their teams were eliminated. Apparently there were whispers of the two joining forces as early as the World Juniors.
Les voilà maintenant réunis dans l'organisation des Canadiens... pic.twitter.com/hCcf0XmDRS— Mikaël Lalancette (@MLalancetteTVA) May 17, 2018
“Those two guys work really well together, if you look at their history of trading in the QMJHL, it’s pretty obvious that they have good chemistry and that they work well together. You look at their success at the World Juniors this year, that’s obvious to see.”
“There’s so many good things to what Dom is able to do and of course that partnership with Joel is only going to make things better when players are going up and down between Montreal and Laval.”