LAVAL - Sylvain Lefebvre and Larry Carriere are ready to get down to business with the Rocket.
New name, new arena, new fans - these are just some of the new things that await the Laval Rocket come the fall. Nevertheless, the Habs' farm club will enjoy a bit of stability when they start play in 2017-18.
At a Thursday afternoon press conference at Place Bell, the Laval club made it official that head coach Sylvain Lefebvre would be returning behind the bench. After stops in Hamilton and St. John's, the 49-year-old will start his sixth season as bench boss on the North Shore of Montreal, where he once played Junior.
"It's really exciting for me. It's like I never left. I played three years of Junior in Laval. I grew up around here, on (boulevard) du Souvenir," indicated Lefebvre, who played for the Voisins and then the Laval Titan from 1984-85 to 1986-87. "I went to CEGEP Montmorency, so for me, it's going back to where it all started.
Video: Lefebvre on returning to the farm club
"It was really important for me to look back on the season and figure out what I really wanted. On the family side, it was an easy decision," continued Lefebvre, who met his wife, Marie-Claire, in Laval. "One of my children lives and works in Laval. My two grandchildren are here. The family aspect is very important."
Since the IceCaps were eliminated in the first round of the AHL playoffs, Lefebvre admits he was looking to see if other opportunities might come up, especially if it meant a return to the NHL as an assistant coach, something he had done with the Colorado Avalanche from 2009-2012. But the former defenseman affirms that his first choice was always to come back to the Canadiens' farm club. His assistants from last year, Donald Dufresne, Nick Carriere and Marco Marciano, will all be back in the fold alongside him.
Given that his club has only made the Calder Cup playoffs once in his five-year tenure, Lefebvre understands that answering the critics is part of the game.
"I know my role with the Canadiens, and it's to develop their young players and help them reach their full potential and make sure they're ready for when the team needs them during the season," explained the coach, who inked a two-year contract extension with the club. "Over the years, the Canadiens have had good seasons, they've had some playoff success and lots of our players helped them get there. We have a lot of young players coming up. Everyone can have their opinion, but if the Canadiens decided to extend my contract, that's what's important to me."
Now that he'll be in Laval, Lefebvre can work closely with his general manager, since he will only be a few kilometers away from Canadiens headquarters. And a new general manager it will be, as Marc Bergevin will be passing the torch to one of his assistants, Larry Carriere.
Video: Carriere on his appointment as GM of the Rocket
A member of the Habs organization since 2010, Carriere is no stranger to the operations at the farm club, as he was involved in many decisions regarding the Bulldogs and IceCaps the last few years. It made for an easy decision when it came time to pick the Rocket's first head coach.
"He's an excellent coach and we have a history together. Last year, we faced Syracuse in the playoffs, and they went far. It was close," shared Carriere, who won the Calder Cup three times when he was with the Hershey Bears. "We were happy with his work, and the work of his assistants."
Carriere expects the Rocket will be made up of a mix of good young prospects and experienced veterans when the team starts its season in October. He outlined that the organization will make it a priority to attract francophone players, especially in Laval, and that the idea of playing in the 450 region has generated quite a bit of interest among them.
Although the club was embraced by the people of St. John's during their two-year stint there, moving so close to the Bell Centre will be a huge benefit to all sides, both in terms of the success of the team and of the welcome the Rocket will receive in their new home.
"It was a really nice experience in Newfoundland, but this will be a better experience for us, given how passionate the fans are here in Laval," he concluded. "There's a lot of hockey history in Laval, with young players, Junior teams. I remember when I started as a scout in Laval, watching the Titan, and now they've done an excellent job with the arena here."