Thunder rumbled, the earth shook, the lights flickered. The “word that starts with an S” was pronounced at the Canadiens training center on Wednesday morning in Brossard.
Without embarrassment, too. But as it came out of the mouth of Jean-François Houle, head coach of the Laval Rocket, everyone was quickly able to breathe again.
As the Habs’ rookie camp, headed by Houle and his assistants, begins, it was fashionable to discuss the wind of youth that will blow on Île Jésus this season.
We can in fact expect that more than half of the roster will be made up of players aged 22 or younger who are affiliated with the Canadian. Not to mention those, a little older, who are still considered the organization’s prospects – Cayden Primeau, Mattias Norlinder…
However, even if the theme of “growth” that the leaders of the Canadiens are hammering home will also be the watchword in Laval, we are aiming for a “winning environment” there. “In the American League, we always want to make the playoffs,” Houle said during a press scrum.
So there it is, this “word that starts with an S”. Earlier this week, Jeff Gorton, vice-president of hockey operations for the Canadiens, was careful not to pronounce its English synonym: the “word that starts with a P”, for playoffs.
We want to develop players, that is part of our duties, but we also want to win for our fans.
Jean-François Houle, head coach of the Rocket
“Winning means developing,” summarized his deputy Kelly Buchberger. Like everything is in everything.
A little wait
In this, the discourse differs from the Habs where, having buried the objective of reaching the series, we value the manner before the results. At the Rocket, we can expect a happy mix of the two… although not immediately.
“We’re taking it day by day, since there are so many imponderables in the American League,” warned Houle. But after Christmas, we expect to see good progress from our young players. »
We can understand his warning. In defense, we will probably see the professional debut of Logan Mailloux, who comes from the junior ranks. Jayden Struble saw some action last spring upon arriving from Northeastern University, but he’s essentially rookie status. William Trudeau created a happy surprise when he debuted last year, but hey, he’s still only 20 years old.
It is in attack that the influx of new blood will be most evident.
Filip Mesar, Sean Farrell, Riley Kidney and Joshua Roy should all be heading to Laval, unless they do the unthinkable and earn a position in Montreal. With them, Emil Heineman, who arrived from Sweden at the end of the last campaign, should begin his first full season in the American League, although he is among the rare candidates who can seriously aspire to play with the Canadian in October.
Assistant coach Martin Laperrière does not hide it: these players drafted by the organization, if not developed following a transaction (Heineman, for example), are labeled as “priority”.
“We need to pay special attention to them, support them well and give them space,” he explained. They must have the chance to make mistakes and learn. It is important, for that, to surround them with good veterans who will protect them and encourage them. »
Gabriel Bourque, Mitchell Stephens, even Lucas Condotta then enter the scene. Older players, who have seen others.
That being said, special attention does not mean a free pass. “We treat everyone the same way,” Buchberger clarified. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you come from. First year players are treated like everyone else. They all receive the same level of respect. »
So much for the overall portrait of a season that hasn’t even started.
Long before things get serious, there’s always that rookie camp that gets going. Medical examinations and physical tests were done on Wednesday, and a skating session will take place this Thursday morning before flying to the pearl of New York State, Buffalo. A group of 27 players invited by the Canadian will compete against the hopes of the Boston Bruins, the New Jesery Devils, the Ottawa Senators, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Sabres, hosts of the tournament.
Resolutely in a good mood, Jean-François Houle said he hoped to see his men “playing with their heads free”. “It’s important to let them play, to see what they can give us,” he said.
Quickly, you will have to relieve stress. “Some people have trouble saying hello to us because they are so nervous,” Kelly Buchberger said with a laugh. The first day, no one said a word in the locker room. Then the guys are more comfortable, with each other and on the ice. After two or three days, it’s much better. »
“It’s been a long summer, the guys are excited. Everybody is ready ! », assured his boss.
Buffalo won’t even believe what’s happening to him.