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The best of friends

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – To say that Francis Bouillon and Michel Therrien respect one another would be an understatement.

With Bouillon formally announcing his retirement on Friday after a 15-year NHL career, the pair took the opportunity to share their thoughts on a working relationship that began over two decades ago with the QMJHL’s Laval Titan during the 1992-93 campaign. With time, though, the two have formed a friendship that will surely last a lifetime.

“There’s one person who believed in me from the start, and that was Michel. Even when I was starting out in Junior, he was willing to help me. We stayed after practice and we worked together. I saw that he believed in me. I wondered how long it would really last, but it’s been like that for 20 years,” shared Bouillon, who elected to hang up his skates after playing 776 career NHL games with the Canadiens and Nashville Predators, 581 of which were as a member of the CH. “It was always hard for me to see him as a coach because Michel was more than a coach for me. He was a friend. He was a second father. When I needed a push, he pushed me. He knew me. When he saw that I was struggling, he knew how to get me back on track. I owe everything to him.”

Therrien shared similar thoughts about his former charge, who he has long admired for his will to defy the odds.

“When you get to know a guy since he was 17 years old – and you go through all kinds of ups and downs together – it makes things special. In my mind, Francis Bouillon is a man of determination and courage,” praised Therrien, who in addition to coaching Bouillon in the Junior ranks, also was his bench boss in Fredericton (AHL) and Montreal, too. “I remember when I was coaching in Junior, I went to see him play. He was the player who really jumped out at me. People told me back then he was a good Midget player, but he was too small to play Junior. When it came to the AHL, they told me the same thing. They said he was a good Junior player, but he was too small to play professionally. To have had the career he had, it was all because of his determination. That’s what I respect about him a lot.”

The two experienced the thrill of victory together in Granby back in 1995-96 as Bouillon captained the Predateurs to a Memorial Cup title under Therrien’s watch. It’s a moment in their respective careers they still enjoy reminiscing about today.

“When I arrived in Granby, Michel told me in his office – “We came here to win the Memorial Cup and you’ll be my captain. You’re going to be the one who brings it back.” He always challenged me. That’s what I liked about him,” recalled Bouillon, who enjoyed a career year with the Predateurs, notching 11 goals and 46 points in 68 regular season games, while also amassing 156 penalty minutes along the way. “You just need to be in the right place at the right time and you have to have luck. Michel gave me my chance. But, you have to seize that opportunity. That’s what I told myself.”

All these years later, Bouillon’s immediate reaction after securing Junior hockey’s top prize remains etched in Therrien’s mind.

“I’ve still got memories of seeing him with tears in his eyes on the bench after finally winning the Memorial Cup. That’s one of many,” offered Therrien, who always paid close attention to Bouillon’s career path, even when he wasn’t the man tasked with providing him with direction and guidance. “Then, there’s his start in the NHL [in 1999-2000 under Alain Vigneault]. I was happy to see Alain give him his first shot with the Canadiens. I didn’t miss that game, because when you see guys you’ve coached in Junior finally make it, it’s exceptional. That’s where the challenge begins for any player. Then, over time, people in Montreal got to know who Francis really was. There’s the professional career, which is exceptional. But, he’s a lot more than that. He’s a good man. He’s a family man. That’s worth way more than just being a hockey player.”

Needless to say, that’s something Bouillon takes tremendous pride in as he puts his professional hockey career behind him and begins the next phase of his life with his wife, Ginette, and children, Michael and Anthony.

“On a personal note, I didn’t burn any bridges over the years and I didn’t try to gain anything either. The most important thing for me was to be respected by my teammates. That’s the way it was my whole career,” admitted Bouillon, who is committed to staying as involved as he possibly can with the Canadiens Alumni Association going forward. “In a perfect world, I would have played my entire career in Montreal. But, I’m happy to have started and ended it here.”

Therrien is certainly in agreement there.

“You can never forget that the Canadiens are very close to the people [of Quebec]. I don’t think there’s a better example of someone being close to the people than Francis Bouillon,” concluded Therrien. “He’s a man of the people and he was appreciated by everybody.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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