The community rink at Place Bell got so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
A roster full of Laval Rocket players were all hunched over and staring down at the ice while catching their breath. Along the boards in the neutral zone stood Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard, looking at a stopwatch, waiting to tell his players to climb “the mountain” again.
“In 10,” he barks.
Sure enough, in 10 seconds, a line of players rush up ice with a goaltender trailing behind.
It’s the ice hockey equivalent of suicides, or “Herbies” if you’re American. Players skate from one end of the ice to another, and progressively farther as the drill goes on. When done at the end of practice like this day, it can suck out your energy. Forward Jake Evans found himself gasping for air and barely got out an “I’m done” before falling to the ice.
“We need to prove ourselves, we need to work a little extra hard,” Evans added. “If there’s a time and place, [Bouchard] will make sure we do it and get better.
“You’re supposed to give it your all. After the second one, I was pretty tired,” Evans said.
In his second season as Rocket head coach, a mountain of expectations have been heaped onto Bouchard’s plate. He’s gone from being a journeyman National Hockey League defenceman, to radio and television analyst, to junior hockey coach, and now centred underneath the Montreal Canadiens microscope.
Some have labeled him as the most important person in the Montreal Canadiens organization because of the role he plays in developing the team’s incoming crop of prospects. Whether or not you believe there’s more pressure on Bouchard to do so because the Canadiens have a hard time luring big-name free agents, the 45-year old has his work cut out for him by playing a role in the development of players like Evans, Ryan Poehling, and Cayden Primeau.
But Bouchard doesn’t think much of that title.
“To me, that’s just fla fla,” Bouchard said. “I don’t get involved in ‘do you think that’? I don’t think. If I think, it hurts my head.”
Interviews from Joel Bouchard often bring out some sort of colourful quote, perhaps like the one above. But they’re also delivered with some sort of reassurance and confidence. Consider what he said about his players after that mountain skate.
“At some point you’ve got to forget about your luxury cars, your Louis Vuitton bags, your two-thousand dollar suit and become hockey players,” he said.
“A good coach finds a way to pass his message,” Rocket forward Alex Belzile said. “With the new generation, with the younger guys, you have to have great analogies. That’s a good quality of his. Sometimes it’s going to be [humourous], but it just finds a way to get his message through,”
But when asked about the attention he’s received for the position he’s in, his voice dips to a low register and he defers to growing his players — not himself.
“I have to work. I got to work and I’ve got to work with those guys,” he added. “When Claude [Julien] needs a player, Marc [Bergevin] needs a player, they’re ready. If guys need to progress in a year or two years from now. They’re ready. That’s my job. My job is not to evaluate what people think.”
“I can’t speak for him but he loves his job and he likes us and he wants us to help us get better,” Primeau said. “He wants us to be able to experience the things that he did and ultimately help us get to where we want to get to,”