LAVAL - Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced on Thursday that two-time QMJHL Coach of the Year Joel Bouchard will join the organization as the second head coach in Laval Rocket history.
Bouchard joins the fold after having spent the last seven years with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, where he served as the team's GM, and as head coach from 2014-15 through 2017-18.
We caught up with the newly-appointed bench boss to learn more about the man who will be charged with developing the organization's brightest prospects and future stars.
Congratulations on the hire, Joel! What would you say excites you most about the roster in Laval?
JOEL BOUCHARD: Well, it's a good challenge and it's a fun challenge. It's fun to be a part of the careers of hockey players who are aspiring to become NHLers. I take a lot of pride in seeing my players succeed and it will be fun to be in an environment where we can all work together and see some results with the organization's young players. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing my players succeed. That's what's exciting to me, to go into the trenches with the guys and work with them and make sure that they become the best pros they can be, and then see them have success at the next level.
You mentioned during your press conference that you're already familiar with some of the guys here. Are there some players, in particular, that you're eager to work with?
JB: I know pretty much everyone on the roster right now to some extent - some more than others - but I'm excited to work with all of them. I'll maybe set the bar a bit higher for some of them because I know their potential or I think I know what they need to do to have success in the American League and the next level, but that's exciting to me.
How would you describe the culture you would like to instill here?
JB: I want hockey players - I want guys who play hockey. That's important. I know that sounds obvious, but to me, a hockey player is a hard-working guy who pushes his limits and pushes himself and is a good teammate. A hockey player is someone who understands that everybody has a different path, but we all need to work together if we want to accomplish anything. That's what a hockey player is to me. Everything after that will fall into place, but I want guys who are passionate about the game and who want to give themselves the best chance to be in the NHL, and who will do that with the Laval Rocket.
In Boisbriand, with the Armada, you built a winning culture over time. How important is that when it comes to breeding confidence?
JB: The day we play without a scoreboard, I'll change my approach, but as long as there's a scoreboard, we'll play to win. I'm not a guy who ever looks at another lineup and says we have no chance. I always find a way to maximize what we get out of the group, and that won't be different here. I try to look for an edge or that little something that will be the difference between winning and losing. That's exciting to me. I don't back down from a challenge. But I'm not the one on the ice holding a stick. The players are the ones out there who have to be the difference-makers. That's the environment you need to create. We're here to win and I don't believe in playing just for the sake of development, and Marc agrees with that. Of course we develop players in the AHL, but if you want players to develop, they need to have success.
Has Marc given you a specific mandate or blueprint to work with?
JB: We're hockey guys; we understand each other. Obviously, we've talked about a lot of things and I think he knows me. He understands where I'm coming from and what I'm trying to accomplish. I'm coming from pro hockey like him. I've played in the AHL and I understand the process and the reality of it. We definitely both understand that we need to work with the players and develop them in a winning environment. That's what we'll do.
What are your expectations for your players in Laval?
JB: Play hard and play the right way. That's it. They need to play hard. If you don't play hard, you don't get better. If you don't play the right way, you don't get better. They need to invest in themselves, work hard, and then the rest - yes, we'll work on the skills and the systems - everything else will fall into place. But if you don't have that passion, or if you don't have that work ethic and build those habits, and you don't play the right way, you won't develop.
You mentioned in your press conference that you've experienced almost everything your players will be going through so you can relate to them. How has coaching evolved since the days when you were their age, and how has it affected the way you coach?
JB: The game has changed, obviously, in terms of the style of play and even the rule changes. It's such a fast game now. But I think one of the biggest changes has been in terms of the way you need to communicate. You need a different style of communication, different priorities. I think you need good, honest discussions. It's not 1997 anymore, and we all have to adjust as people and as managers and as coaches. My players should always know that when we talk, they're getting the truth. I'm not going to sugar coat anything. You need to communicate politely and with respect, but the worst thing in hockey or in life is to steer people in the wrong direction with misconceptions and ideas that aren't right. You need to be honest even when it's not an easy conversation.
Video: Bergevin and Bouchard on Bouchard's hiring in Laval
When it comes to making decisions, how important is it for players to understand the reasoning behind the things you do?
JB: Hockey players are smart. They understand that decisions need to be made. I think they need to buy in, and it's our job to sell what we're doing and that it's for their own good and the good of the team. At the end of the day, you want to win, but from my standpoint it's more than that. I want players to perform. If they perform, we'll win, but winning is the result and I want to focus on the process. When you focus on the process, the results will follow. That means getting better and buying in. But I think that's where the investment needs to be on their end. I don't control the result. I control the process.