Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle put his two fingers close together, indicating how close Brandon Gignac was to being in the press box for the team’s final home game against the Toronto Marlies last Thursday.
Houle had called out his bottom two lines the night before, indicating that he was only happy with two lines and that the rest of the forwards needed to step up in the final two regular season games on their way to the team’s first playoff appearance.
“We had a conversation that those who didn’t play well would do well to show up, or we’ll make changes,” Houle said last week.
By now, you may realize what happened. Gignac’s incredible goal, where he went through three defenders and batted the air-borne puck into the net with one hand, tied the game against Toronto. It earned Laval a crucial point in the standings, and when the team won in overtime, it proved to be the difference between the team playing the three-game play-in round or finishing third and making it straight into the North Division semi-final.
HOLY HELL BRANDON GIGNAC ARE YOU SERIOUS?!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 29, 2022
Laval ties it up 4-4!! pic.twitter.com/XTd1Ng2P8Y
“It had been a long time since I contributed something to the team,” Gignac said after the game, visibly relieved. “For me to get the goal that tied the game, I was really happy and proud. It was not going well for me personally, so I think it helped the team and I am extremely happy with the result.”
In Laval’s win against the Syracuse Crunch in their regular season finale, Gignac had two assists. Add the assist he had with his goal against Toronto, and that was four points in the final two games. Prior to that, he had one goal and two assists in his last 17 games.
“It showed the character we have,” Houle said.
It was reminiscent of the story of Jake Evans a few years ago. Evans was going to be scratched by then-head-coach Joël Bouchard because he was struggling. Later that morning, while Evans was putting in the extra work that healthy scratches do on game day, Charles Hudon was recalled, meaning Evans slotted back in. He ended up scoring an empty net goal, and the confidence rolled from there, eventually leading to him becoming a regular with the Montreal Canadiens.
Gignac is a crucial part of this Rocket team. Normally a centre, he played the last game on wing with Cedric Paquette and Jesse Ylönen on what could be a dominant line for the team. A speedster, Gignac is also a great penalty killer and finished the year tied for second on the team with three shorthanded goals.
Not only is Gignac getting on track key to the team’s playoff series against the Crunch, but his performance in his situation sends a message to everyone battling for their spot.
“It sends a message to everybody, the players on the ice and the players that didn’t play,” Houle said last week. “You have an opportunity, you have to seize it. This time of the year is about working and competing and winning battles, being in the trenches. There aren’t many calls from the ref, you need to fight through that, you have to fight through all kinds of things. I think this sends a message to everybody that this is how we want to play, we want to be intense and if you’re not, you’re not going to be in the lineup it’s as simple as that.”
Game 1 of the Laval-Syracuse series goes Friday night, with Game 2 the next night. The best-of-five series comes to Laval on Thursday, May 12 for Game 3.