BROSSARD – Nine months after officially closing the book on his playing career, Francis Bouillon is getting a whole new perspective on the game of hockey.
On Sunday, the 40-year-old former defenseman hit the ice on the South Shore at the Canadiens’ Development Camp as a guest coach, beginning the process of sharing his expertise with prospects and invitees at the Bell Sports Complex through the final day of the annual gathering on Thursday.
Bouillon, who met with members of the media on Monday afternoon, confirmed that the Canadiens had extended the offer to him a few months ago. Needless to say, it didn’t take the veteran of 776 NHL games with both the CH and the Nashville Predators long to take the club up on its offer.
“I’ve been in conversation with people from the Canadiens for a while now. I keep myself informed. I have a lot of contacts. I know both Marc [Bergevin] and Michel [Therrien] really well. It’s an honor for me to be here, and I take a lot pride in it,” said Bouillon, who announced his retirement on September 25, 2015 after seeing 15 years of NHL action. “I don’t hide the fact that the Montreal Canadiens are like a second family for me. It does a lot of good spending the week here and sharing my experience with young players.”
Likewise, Bouillon is taking the opportunity to soak up plenty of information, too. Assuming a coaching role of any kind is entirely new to the one-time Memorial Cup champion, who is already benefitting from his interaction with more seasoned instructors like Canadiens director of player development, Martin Lapointe, and St. John’s IceCaps head coach, Sylvain Lefebvre.
“There’s still work to be done [in terms of my coaching skills]. Being a coach isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’ve never really gone on the ice with kids. On Sunday, I had my first opportunity to do it, and I enjoyed the experience,” said Bouillon, who mentored countless up-and-coming NHL players while still sporting a Canadiens uniform, but didn’t necessarily “coach” them along. “In my final seasons in Montreal, I always enjoyed helping out our younger guys who were called up. I was never really a coach, though. Now, I’m really here to learn.”
Players like Jeremy Gregoire are taking full advantage of Bouillon’s presence already, reaching out for advice and guidance in their quest to one day become an NHL regular just like he did 16 years ago.
“I saw the Trajectoires show about him on RDS, which was very inspiring for me. He’s a hard-working guy, and now this week he’s here with us. I think I maybe ask him 10 questions a day and he’s always there to provide answers,” said Gregoire, who is coming off his first full season in the pros, having suited up for 62 games with the IceCaps in 2015-16. “He told me to just stay relaxed and believe in myself. If Frankie didn’t believe in himself wherever he went, he wouldn’t have had that kind of career.”
Bouillon actually coached Gregoire’s team during the camp’s first intra-squad game on Sunday afternoon, and it just so happened that the Sherbrooke native registered a hat-trick in an 8-3 victory.
“I played against Francis in my first camp [with the Canadiens]. He was on the team at the time,” mentioned the 20-year-old centerman. “Having him behind the bench, you always listen to what he has to say because he’s been through so much and overcome a lot of obstacles. He’s a great model for me. He’s also very smart, poised and calm with the guys. I think he’s a future coach, for sure.”
Fellow Quebecer, defenseman Simon Bourque, also has a great deal of respect for what Bouillon managed to accomplish during his time patrolling the blue line.
“It’s special for me to see him here. I grew up watching the Canadiens and Francis Bouillon play with my dad. He’s a player you watched a lot for his work ethic. To be able to work with him here and ask him questions – and for him to be able to give me advice and tips on my game – is big,” shared Bourque, who is making his second appearance at camp after being selected 177th overall by the Canadiens in 2015. “I didn’t expect to have him here, but it’s a very nice surprise.”
So, is a full-time coaching career in Bouillon’s future? That remains to be seen, according to the always dependable rearguard. But, he’s happy to be back on the ice.
“I don’t know if it will spark something in me. First and foremost, I want to see if I like it,” concluded Bouillon. “I’ve always enjoyed working with youngsters, so it will be nice to spend the week here. Then, we’ll see.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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