BROSSARD – Francis Bouillon recently paid a visit to the Montreal Canadiens Hockey School, but it was far from his first on-ice appearance this summer.
Growing up in Quebec, Bouillon spent his share of summer days honing his skills at hockey camps. Now a 13-year NHL veteran, the 37-year-old still spends his offseasons hitting the ice at hockey schools across the province, looking to grow the game in his backyard.
“I do a lot of camps and golf tournament appearances in the summer. Any time I can help, I will,” explained Bouillon between ice sessions at the Canadiens’ hockey school. “I’ll do [Maxim] Lapierre and [Guillaume] Latendresse’s camp in August and I was just in Kuujjuaq two weeks ago.”
During his time in the remote Inuit community located roughly 1,500 km north of Montreal, Bouillon also had a chance to witness the results of a hockey development program implemented by former Canadiens forward Joe Juneau in 2007. The veteran blue-liner left impressed by the talent level being produced in a town whose population hovers around 2,375.
“There are some really great players there,” shared Bouillon. “Joe runs a program where he has training camps in the city and picks the best kids to help them move south to continue their careers and reach their potential. Hockey is huge up there.”
Following in the footsteps of David Desharnais and Louis Leblanc who previously attended the camp in 2011 and 2012, respectively, Bouillon arrived in Nunavik, ready to teach and learn.
“When the guy asked me to go there, I didn’t know much about it and I knew David had been there before so I called him,” he explained. “He told me it was a great experience and it was eye-opening to see how different it is up north. The way they live is completely different from what we’re used to here.
“It’s not just the hockey; you see the people there and the way they live and they have pretty much nothing. They have things like TV and Internet, but as far as amenities go, that’s about it,” recounted Bouillon. “There are some things you don’t even realize, like food costs a lot more up there because they have to bring it in by boat and it’s a long process. Everything is different.”
While they may pay a premium for fresh fruit and live without many of the comforts of city life, there’s at least one thing the kids in Kuujjuaq have in common with Quebecers growing up in every other community across the province.
“Those kids are really crazy about the Canadiens. That was really fun to see,” shared Bouillon, who spotted plenty of Habs T-shirts and caps during his trip. “I wanted to go there just for the experience. Getting to spend time up there and ask questions and learn about the culture was an amazing experience. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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