“If you’re not going to battle every single night, then, I don’t know, maybe you should be doing something else instead.”
Joël Bouchard was very direct with his message after a tough loss in Rochester on Friday night. He wants his team to be ready every single game, though he admits it has been tougher than he expected. His roster has been in constant flux, though finally is back to roughly where it was at the start of the season. While that’s good news, it hasn’t escaped Bouchard’s eye when some things just aren’t working.
“We aren’t gelling as much as I had hoped. It’s the American league, we’ve lost a lot of players over different time and now they’re back. I just don’t feel we’re clicking as well as we could be. When we are, we’re doing well.”
Given that over the course of this year Bouchard has lost Charles Hudon, Riley Barber, Phil Varone, Lukas Vejdemo, Alex Belzile, Ryan Poehling and Noah Juulsen for periods of time, plus injuries to depth players like Joe Cox and Ralph Cuddemi, it isn’t hard to see why the team might be struggling for consistency. Yet in spite of the constant roster fluctuation, Bouchard has his team in the thick of the playoff hunt, in a division where only one team is below a .500 points percentage. It’s a murderer’s row of teams, and Bouchard knows there aren’t any gimmes on the ice.
“It’s hard to always find the best combinations, but it’s my job. I’m not going to cry about it, it’s a tough league and you can’t coach the same or think the same as you do in other leagues. I feel like we’re a bit too ‘independent contractor’ right now. They’re nice guys and they want to do well, but we’re just not gelling yet.”
Bouchard isn’t sweating it though, having gone through such a drastic shift last year with call-ups and injuries, to even earlier this year when they played some games with 11 forwards and Josh Brook on the wing.
“We went through the shuffle and injuries last year and earlier this year. Last year they never came back; this year they’re at least coming back. So now that they’re back it’s a matter of getting them into the lineup and everyone clicking like they should be.”
Even on the heels of a tough loss, where he had his star scoring winger ejected, his veteran defender tossed for defending said star, and witnessing a mistake-filled game in general, Bouchard wasn’t placing the blame on his players, or dwelling on the negatives as the team prepared to travel to Binghamton.
“The guys need to sleep and recharge or refocus tomorrow. The coaches too, so we can re-establish a few things in the morning and go from there.”
The Rocket will have to commit to the battle for the next 30-plus games. They’re sitting just outside the playoff picture, but are right within striking distance of the top of their own division. Bouchard has made it clear that not just the playoffs, but a deep run are his goals this year. It won’t be easy, but, as he said, it’s a tough league, and you have to be ready for it every single game.