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‘That’s coaching’: Joël Bouchard impresses in his first test in professional coaching

The head coach was everything he needed to be during the team’s Rookie camp

Jared Book

The rookie who impressed me the most at Montreal Canadiens Rookie Showdown wasn’t Josh Brook or Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It wasn’t Alexandre Alain or TJ Melancon.

It was their coach: Joël Bouchard.

And this isn’t to take away from any of the players at the rookie camp, which ends with a practice on Wednesday afternoon. There was plenty of talent on display, even if a lot of it was a bit raw.

But Bouchard impressed me every step of the way. When Jarret Tyszka was laying on the ice, with the medical staff around him. My eyes were drawn to the bench. There was Bouchard talking to his team. He didn’t look angry. It didn’t look like he was even yelling. But every player was turned and looking directly at him.

After the game, players mentioned getting a wake up call. Bouchard was asked about that, as well.

“It was enough,” Bouchard said. “That was two players who left on a stretcher. We did nothing. Both times. The first time, I gave them a chance. There was no one on the ice that went to see the guy on the other team. That’s unacceptable. That has to change. We play as a team. That has to change and they were warned. The guys who were on the ice, they didn’t play the rest of the period. We aren’t asking them to fight. We want them to support each other. It’s the Montreal Canadiens. At a certain point we need to stand tall. I’m not condoning violence but we’re not going to sit back, either.”

Looking at the hit, the players on the ice after the hit were Will Bitten, Allan McShane, Alexander Katerinakis, and Cale Fleury. All of them played after the first period benching.

“I wasn’t benching them because I don’t like them,” he said. “They need to understand. They come to a camp for the Montreal Canadiens. Even if it’s a rookie camp, they are wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey. I’m not asking for gratuitous violence. But I want to them to stand tall. That’s two who got taken off. Enough is enough.”

That last line lingered. He was speaking in French. But those three words he said in English. He repeated them a second time. Again, in English before switching back to French.

“Enough is enough. We play hockey. We protect each other and we support each other. What I’m happy about is that is exactly what the guys did afterwards.”

Bouchard, who I already found engaging and that he got “it” before the weekend, solidified that on Friday when he said all the right things after a tough loss against the Ottawa Senators. Then, at practice on Saturday, he did that again when he talked about visiting Jake Evans in hospital after the game.

“I’m hard on my guys,” he said. “I’m demanding, but I’m there 24/7 and it’s important that they know that.”

Bouchard is a former player. Calgary’s sixth-round pick in 1992 didn’t have his career come easy. The 44-year old told the media the story of his first training camp when he came back with a black eye, courtesy of Gary Roberts. He went in trying to be physical, and Roberts told him several times, according to Bouchard, to back off. Bouchard kept going and eventually got taught a lesson by the veteran.

Bouchard, jokingly, blamed it on his bad English.

He has a unique viewpoint on coaching after an NHL career that lasted 364 games and another 293 in the AHL.

“Play on your toes, not on your heels,” he said about the advice he would give his players at camp. “That’s the way you have to go. The problem is that it’s a fine line between watching, reacting and acting. I want them to act. Be pro-active. The mistakes don’t bother me. I want them to be in the moment. When you’re on your heels, you’re a passenger and then you’re watching and you’ve become very vulnerable.”

After Sunday’s game, he was more “disappointed father” than “disciplinarian coach.” His role at rookie camp is not dissimilar to the role he had with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, where he was the head coach, teaching younger players. He was asked about his attitude behind the bench.

“That’s coaching,” he said. “I don’t coach part time.”

It was a phrase he used often throughout the weekend.

“If we can’t shake them up, you may as well put iPads behind the bench. At a certain point, they need that. It’s about doing it right, and at the right time. You can’t just shake them up to shake them up.

“But for me what happened, with the reaction that we had, for the Montreal Canadiens organization, it’s unacceptable. They’re young. It’s not about getting angry at them. They need to learn. They need to learn it’s still a team game. I coach a team sport, and we support each other. Before the incident and after the incident it was not the same team. The physical aspect, the collective aspect, the determination, the engagement. everything. Every now and then they need to be told the truth. I was a player. I was yelled at on the bench. It’s fine. When it’s the right time. And for me, that was the right time,” he said.

The former player hasn’t made the full adjustment to his new role. When the Laval Rocket will take to the ice for training camp, it will be his first experience with professional, not junior, players.

“You just have to do it,” he said about the adjustment. “There’s a lot of things about coaching if you were to ask me, I wouldn’t know. [...] Sometimes I go in the room, and I’m not sure how I’m going to approach it, but by the time I get to the middle I better say something that makes sense.”

Bouchard, throughout the weekend, showed that he is engaging, thoughtful, caring, and tough. He is more than just a sound byte and players respect him. I have no doubt he’s an up-and-coming star behind the bench or in a front office, and the Montreal Canadiens organization is stronger with him in it.