In Darren Saulnier’s Nova Scotia home, the Montreal Canadiens were the team that was on the television. He was a fan of the team, and that trickled down to his oldest child Jill, and the youngest Brennan.
The two children grew up fans of the Canadiens, and when both had the opportunity to play in Montreal, they jumped at it. Jill, a long-time member of Canada’s women’s national team, was traded to Montreal in the CWHL in July of 2018. Almost four years to the day later, brother Brennan signed a one-year contract with the Laval Rocket. It made them the first brother and sister to play in the Canadiens organization.
“That was dad’s favorite team growing up,” Brennan said. “That’s who they’re showing on TV. Guy Lafleur, The Rocket, those were guys my dad loved and the Habs were always on the TV. To have Jill there playing for the Canadiennes and me coming in playing for Laval, my family couldn’t be more excited, it’s a dream come true.”
Brennan already saw his name on a Canadiens jersey when he was an invite to the team’s development camp in 2017. However, the day after the team hired Marie-Philip Poulin, she was invited to Geoff Molson’s box at Place Bell for Game 3 of the Rocket’s Eastern Conference final series against the Springfield Thunderbirds. Two of her teammates joined her: Laura Stacey, and Jill Saulnier. They all got Rocket jerseys. It left Brennan thinking bigger.
Il y a du monde a messe à soir— Kathy (@gallymeroreboot) June 9, 2022
Nick Suzuki, Marie-Philip Poulin, Michael Pezzetta, Geoff Molson, Laura Stacey, Jill Saulnier, etc #LavalRocket #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/AMRctY8CoW
“They brought them in to recognize them for a playoff game, and they had jerseys there and just a beautiful, beautiful crest with the Saulnier name bar and I could see myself wearing that jersey,” Brennan said. “When the option came up, just the past two weeks that it was a possibility, I was really excited. And it’s really where I wanted to be.”
Brennan’s hockey journey saw him go to the University of Alabama-Huntsville for NCAA hockey, then to play in Sweden, before stints in the ECHL and AHL. He skates in the summer with current Canadien Justin Barron, who also had nothing but good things to say about the organization.
Last year, while playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Jill made a trip to Pennsylvania for the Rivalry Series game in Pittsburgh. The two crossed paths, and now that the two will be in the Montreal area it is likely to happen more often.
“I want to go in there and leave a good impression right away and have a good year,” he said. “The end goal, obviously, like the rest of the players in the American League is to play in the NHL. I’m just excited to to be a part of the organization. To have my sister there, being so close to home, being from the Maritimes it’s just a short trip for family and friends to come up. My phone’s been blowing up a lot... there’s a lot of excitement around the announcement, and I just can’t wait to get down to Montreal.”
Saulnier, at the Canadiens development camp in 2017, got into a fight with Nikolas Koberstein. At 6’0”, 170 lbs, the 28-year-old admits it’s not a big part of his game, but it’s an element he’s not afraid of either.
“I like to bring a lot of speed and grit to the lineup every night,” he said. “I’m not the biggest guy, when I take on guys who are 6’4”, I have a hard time with those guys. They know what they’re doing. But fighting is in my DNA. I’ll never back down from sticking up for a teammate. So those are the times where I like fighting, as long as it makes sense during a game. Where someone’s taking liberties out there, and I have to keep them honest. I’m looking to bring my speed, skill, score some goals for the organization and help win hockey games. And if I have to shed the mitts a few times, it’s no problem at all.”
Saulnier has played 59 games in the AHL over three seasons, scoring seven goals and adding six assists. He had 28 goals and 28 assists in 72 career ECHL games, including eight points in eight games last season with Reading.
Anthony Richard wasn’t the big name people were expecting to be associated with the Canadiens on the first day of free agency, but the Trois-Rivières native was a familiar name to those who followed the Rocket’s playoff run.
The 25-year-old had four goals and two assists for the Syracuse Crunch in their first round matchup against the Rocket. That playoff performance saw him being called up to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs where he got to take pre-game warmup a few times. He says that being so close, and getting that opportunity to be around the team was a big confidence boost.
After being traded to the Lightning organization, he saw his scoring go from 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 31 games with Nashville’s AHL affiliate to 10 goals and 16 assists in 40 games to finish out the regular season in Syracuse.
He’s looking forward to playing close to home and picking up where he left off.
“At 15 I left for Val d’Or so it’s been 10 years that every August or September I leave my family and friends,” Richard said. “When the Canadiens showed interest, I thought about it, I had other offers, but to be close to friends and family was something I was excited about.”
While playing in Quebec is a bonus, he also saw an opportunity in Montreal.
“Playing at home was a plus, but when I looked at the offers with my agent, it was the best chance to play the most games in the NHL next season,” he said. “My goal is to take [Laurent] Dauphin’s place. He excelled in Laval and got his chance with the Canadiens so that’s my objective for next season.”
His agent, Philippe Lecavalier is Vincent’s brother, and he worked with Montreal general manager Kent Hughes at Quartexx. Richard says that the playoffs may have left a positive feeling with Canadiens management and the Rocket coaching staff. That wasn’t the only impression that was left.
“Just the atmosphere at Place Bell was awesome,” Richard said. “My family and friends were there and it felt like we were playing in the NHL. It meant a lot in my decision. It’s a huge honour to play there, the fans are really passionate about the team and the building is almost packed every night. It’s a exciting that we’ll live an NHL atmosphere even in the AHL or even at the Bell Centre.”