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Here to stay?

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Nine and a half minutes.

That’s all Canucks fans have seen of Guillaume Desbiens in the NHL, but it’s starting to look more and more like that will change drastically this season.

Vancouver has until Wednesday to trim down to a 23-man roster and when it does, the fourth line will likely be made up of Alex Bolduc, Tanner Glass and Desbiens, a gritty, tough trio that could help on the penalty kill and have a real physical dimension.

For Desbiens, cracking the line-up would be the end of one battle and the start of another.

In 2005, the 25-year-old rugged forward from Alma, Quebec, was on the up-and-up in his final season with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Drafted 116th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Desbiens had established himself as a perfect concoction of skill (141 points) and sandpaper (753 penalty minutes) in four seasons with the Huskies.

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Problem was that unbeknownst to Desbiens, the Thrashers had no plans on utilizing that ability and before he knew it, his contract with Atlanta had run out without him ever dressing for even a pre-season game.

Talk about tough times for a kid on the verge of realizing a dream. Not surprisingly, what-the-heck-am-I-doing? crossed his mind quite a few times.

“I think three years ago when they didn’t re-sign me after my entry level contract, I was at that point,” said Desbiens. “I signed with an east coast team, Gwinnett, expecting to go play there, but I didn’t know what to do, I was thinking I should maybe go back to school and finish my degree.”

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a former Quebec MP, Desbiens was set to pursue a degree in political science before deciding to give hockey one last fighting chance.

It’s a good thing he did.

Desbiens was a walk-on with the Moose before becoming a regular in Manitoba; he worked his way so high up the depth chart in a season and a half on the farm that when Daniel Sedin went down to injury early last season, he was recalled. In his NHL debut, Desbiens skated with Kyle Wellwood and Glass picking up a penalty in nine and a half minutes of play that began with a rookie prank.

“The thing I remember the most is before warm-up when they hid my helmet and I had to go on the ice without a helmet,” laughed Desbiens. “It was kind of embarrassing for a rookie to have to do that, but that’s good memories though, great game and we won in a shootout.”

Desbiens is definitely open to pranks this season, as long as ice time with the Canucks comes with it.

“All summer I got prepared to try and make this team and so far it’s been going good and obviously I’m still here, but there’s still a lot of work to do for me to be in the line-up Saturday and to be in the line-up every game after that.”

In five pre-season games with Vancouver this year, Desbiens had a goal and an assist and a team-high 18 hits, including 11 in one game alone. He also went toe-to-toe with San Jose’s Mike Moore in the first period of a 6-2 Canucks loss.

If Coach V is looking to make the fourth line tougher, he came to the right place.

“I have fought at every level that I’ve been to in the past and that’s not going to change. If a situation arises and I need to step up and fight somebody, I’ll do it no matter what and I think that’s what they expect from me.”

Whatever the expectations are, Desbiens will meet them and then some. He’s just happy to have hockey as his profession and politics as dinner conversation instead of the other way around.

“I can’t say how thankful I am to the Moose down there, they gave me a chance and the Canucks for signing me and giving me a chance. When you think you’re done with hockey and you start thinking about another career, it makes you realize how much you like hockey and you love hockey and you want to do that for your career, but maybe you won’t be able to do that.

“As cliché as it may sound, it’s never over until it’s over. I got to Manitoba and they gave me a shot, they said I was going to play on the fourth line had to be physical and that I wasn’t going to get a whole lot of ice time, but if some guys get called up and you play well, maybe you’ll be one of the guys getting bumped to the third line and more and more and they held their word and I’m really thankful.”

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