MONTREAL – Francis Bouillon proved two things in his return to Montreal: Age is only a number and yes, he still has tons left in the tank.
When he agreed to rejoin the team that launched his NHL career and played the majority of his games in the league, Bouillon knew his role would be decidedly different from the one he filled before departing from the club in 2009. Now the elder statesman of the Canadiens’ defensive brigade, the 37-year-old veteran arrived in Montreal ready to play mentor to the team’s burgeoning blue-liners. Not just content to fill the role of professor, Bouillon also seized the opportunity to step up and quickly become a key cog in the Habs’ march to a northeast division title.
“I’m generally happy with what I was able to accomplish this season. When I signed my contract with the team over the summer, my aim was to be one of the club’s six defensemen for each and every game while managing to stay injury-free. I reached both those goals,” said Bouillon, who didn’t miss a single regular season or playoff game for the Habs in 2012-13 and also picked up nine points in the process. “I feel like I had a good season and was able to be part of the solution to helping us become a winning team again. In that regard, things went well all season long.”
Anxious to jump back into action with the bleu-blanc-rouge, Bouillon, along with the rest of the Montreal faithful, had to wait a little longer than anticipated thanks to a lockout that stretched into 2013. When the NHL finally did get back to business in the New Year, it was clear to anyone paying attention that the Canadiens’ offseason addition hadn’t lost a step.
Solid play in his own zone and a bottomless supply of tenacity were front and center in Bouillon’s game all season long and helped him prove to fans – not to mention himself – that a return to Montreal and the Habs had indeed been the right decision for both sides involved.
“I loved being able to come back and play in Montreal. Getting to raise the torch during the home opener was a really emotional moment for me,” recalled Bouillon, of the Bell Centre ceremony on Jan. 19. “I truly appreciated every moment of this season, from all the wins to even when things got a little tougher toward the end. You’re bound to encounter adversity from time to time, but I thought we did a good job of bouncing back whenever we needed to.
“I really enjoyed this season and I’m happy with how things went,” he added. “It was also great for my family and me to be able to return home like we did, and for me to get to play in front of my friends and parents again.”
As was the case with most of the league’s veterans this season, suiting up for 48 games in just over three months proved a tall order for Bouillon. He was relied upon heavily to shoulder the load when his team lost defensemen to injury, all the while seamlessly easing rookies into the lineup, providing a steadying force as they made their NHL debuts. Without much downtime in a jam-packed calendar, Bouillon was only given a few days off a handful of times in 2012-13 before being called back to duty.
“No one really knew what to expect, but it wasn’t easy. It was tough not only physically, but mentally as well,” admitted Bouillon, who finished the demanding season fifth among his teammates in hits with 78. “We’d finish a game at the Bell Centre and then get on a plane right after and fly out because we were playing again the next day. That was difficult, but every other player in the league was dealing with the same sort of calendar this season, too.”
Contrary to last year when he went into the offseason surrounded by question marks, Bouillon will finally be able to rest easy this summer knowing he’s penciled in to be back on Bell Centre ice with the Habs to start the 2013-14 campaign. Fresh off a season that saw fans cheer the Canadiens all the way to a division title, the team’s veteran defenseman is a strong believer that the best is still to come for the Habs.
“Everything about this season was encouraging and we’re only going to keep getting better,” concluded Bouillon, who will kick off his 14th NHL season this fall. “This was the first year for a lot of new personnel within the organization and we all learned a lot. I have a feeling that we’re all going to come back even better next time around.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Justin Fragapane.
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