Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard jokes about the fact that with so many young players on the team’s roster that he’s no longer a coach, but a teacher. That comes with the job of being a coach in the AHL which is first and foremost a development league.
Cale Fleury started last season in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, and is back with the Rocket where he played 77 games over the last two seasons and the early part of this one. He’s a player who is still learning to play at the pro level, and he impressed Bouchard and others with his start.
“With Fleury, I had a meeting with him and gave him a plan and we’re happy because that’s what he did,” Bouchard said. “Alex Burrows brought up a good point and said we want him to become a physical force that the other team will remember him, that he makes a name for himself.”
He has only been on the ice for one goal against in the three games this season, while adding two assists. He has always been a physical presence, but it has taken a step forward and has been surrounded by a more well-rounded game.
Familiarity brings adjustments
Friday night will be the fourth straight game between the Rocket and the Belleville Senators. The Rocket won the first two by 5-1 scores, but then suffered their first loss of the season on Tuesday night with a 4-1 loss of their own.
Bouchard says the coaching battle between the two teams is like a playoff series where teams make adjustments against each other and there aren’t many surprises.
“It becomes more of a chess game,” Bouchard said. “They made adjustments for the third game. They sat back in the neutral zone, our players got a little impatient, that’s what created those turnovers.”
After their first loss of the season, it will now be up to the Rocket to counter those adjustments. The difference is that Bouchard is also trying to balance his roster.
“What coach in his right frame of mind would have changed the lineup the way we played last weekend? Have you ever seen that?,” Bouchard said. “But I have to do it and I am going to do it again Friday. What am I going to do? Sit young guys for weeks and weeks? I can’t do that...”
The roster balancing had a casualty on Wednesday when forward Samuel Vigneault mutually terminated his contract with the team so that he could sign in Europe. Vigneault was on an AHL deal, and signed with Eispiraten Crimmitschau in the German second division. Vigneault played 190 AHL games over the last four seasons but sat out the Rocket’s three games.
There are 10 players who have yet to play a game this season for the Rocket. Kaiden Guhle and Alex Belzile would have played but are still nursing injuries and are ruled out for Friday. The others are Liam Hawel, Cam Hillis, Hayden Verbeek, Tobie Paquette-Bisson, Nathanael Halbert, Jacob Leguerrier, Gianni Fairbrother, and Vasili Demchenko.
Demchenko dressed on Tuesday as Cayden Primeau’s backup.
Bouchard didn’t want to announce any lineup news on Thursday. He will speak to the media on Friday morning. The team gets their daily COVID-19 testing results later in the day, and wants to wait until he’s 100% sure of his lineup. He says that if he announces someone will play, that means someone else will not. He prefers to do that when he’s sure, and after he’s told the player so they don’t find out through the media.