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Tough call

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD – It’s never easy when a teammate leaves the fold, but the Canadiens must now move on without Rene Bourque in the picture.

After the Lac La Biche, AB native cleared waivers at Noon EST on Monday, the Habs assigned the 32-year-old forward to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

Bourque, who has been a member of the Canadiens since January 2012 when he was acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames, struggled through 13 games this season, registering just two assists, while posting a team-low minus-9 differential. He hadn’t seen game action since November 4th against the Blackhawks, as he was a healthy scratch for the last two games following a less than stellar start to the 2014-15 campaign.

“It’s sad and it’s tough to see a linemate and a friend like Rene go. It’s not fun, but it’s a tough league where there’s always somebody ready to take your spot and the competition is hard. It’s the NHL. Everybody’s aware of that in here,” offered Lars Eller, who was one of Bourque’s most frequent linemates in recent years. “You certainly don’t expect it. It rarely happens, but we all know that it’s a part of the game. It’s tough for him, but I hope he’ll find a home somewhere else. I’m sure he’s going to bounce back.”

That was the consensus inside the Canadiens’ locker room on Monday afternoon as players reacted to the news that the 10-year NHL veteran was on the move.

“Obviously, it’s a tough situation. Bourque has been a teammate of mine for a while, and he’s one of my best friends. You never like to see someone in a position like that. It’s a business. There’s nothing we can do as players. We have to continue to come to the rink and take care of our business,” explained Brandon Prust, who also played alongside the right-winger while the pair were both members of the Calgary Flames between 2008 and 2010. “Sometimes, things just aren’t clicking. He’s done some good stuff out there, but it’s a business decision, and we’ve got to live with it.”

For his part, head coach Michel Therrien insisted that the decision to assign Bourque to the AHL was a result of poor production alone.

“It’s not a question of confidence. It’s a question of results. We give opportunities to guys, and when we see that the results aren’t there, decisions have to be made. We decided to put him on waivers first, and then send him to Hamilton,” stressed Therrien, who insisted that time spent with the Bulldogs could give Bourque a chance to get his game back on track. “It’s never easy to let a veteran go, but there comes a time when decisions have to be made based on their performance.”

It certainly wasn’t the way the Canadiens were hoping things would ultimately play out with the University of Wisconsin grad, who was a force to be reckoned with during the postseason last spring, leading the team with eight playoff goals.

“We were hoping that he’d be able to build on his playoff performance last year with his work ethic and his passion. We thought he’d be able to keep it going, but the results weren’t there,” mentioned Therrien. “We’re not closing any doors, but at the same time, he has to go there and perform the way that he can.”

The loss of Bourque, however, is very much Jiri Sekac’s gain. After watching seven straight games from the press box, the talented young gun put on a show in his second game back on Saturday night against Minnesota, which may have ultimately sealed Bourque’s fate in La Belle Province.

“It’s a spinning wheel. There are always young guys knocking at the door who are ready to take spots. But, you have to be fair and give everyone a chance. We gave some players chances, and we saw that a few young guys responded to the call,” confided Therrien. “We thought it was enough time away for Jiri. He trained hard and worked hard in video sessions, and there’s a time when you have to let him show what he’s capable of. We were satisfied with his work over the last two games. He played with energy and confidence. He adjusted certain aspects of his play, too. That line with Eller and Prust was excellent last game, and we want to keep it going.”

So does the Czech forward, who is still adapting to the realities of NHL life, some of which aren’t always that pleasant to deal with.

“That’s just the way hockey is. Sometimes, things happen that you don’t expect. That’s just the way it is,” offered Sekac. “If I keep playing the same way, I don’t think there should be any changes in the lineup, but you never know. It’s the coaches’ decision who he puts in there, so I’ll just keep trying to play like I did last game, and we’ll see what happens.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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