After every pre-game warm-up, Antoine Roussel slowly makes his way to Canucks dressing room while tossing souvenir pucks to fans near the visiting tunnel.
Wednesday in Ottawa it was Roussel's teammates who benefitted from his kindness.
The 30-year-old forward, who was born in Roubaix, France, but moved to Canada in 2005, played junior hockey for the QMJHL's Chicoutimi Sagueneens. That was when he met his future wife Alexandra, whose father Sylvain would purchase a sugar bush and sugar shack with his brother Andre a few years later. They have now owned it for 12 years.
Roussel has spent a lot of time, alongside his wife and brother-in-law Vincent, working at Érablière Au Sucre d'Or and its seasonal brunch restaurant at Laterrière, Saguenay, in Quebec. He has served tables, tapped trees by hand, taken part in the canning process and even answered phones - anything to be part of the team during tapping season, typically lasting two weeks in late March/early April, before it's time to sell the sticky goodness.
Roussel's parents, who live in Belle province, in Mont-Tremblant (northwest of Montreal) have also spent time at the sugar shack, making it a genuine family business, one Roussel is extremely proud of.
Video: Antoine Roussel Comments on Maple Syrup Business
When the Canucks were in Montreal earlier this week, Roussel was able to grab a few (very heavy) boxes filled with 540 ml cans of pure maple syrup. Ahead of practice Wednesday, he surprised his teammates by handing out cans in the dressing room.
Confused at first, the Canucks embraced the gift and everyone in the room was talking maple syrup with the media afterwards. Sugar high. Everywhere.
"On our farm, we get a lot of sugar maple trees, it's awesome," boasted Roussel. "It's rare to find these trees where the farm is located because it's so remote. It happened because a long time ago there was a fire, from lightning I'm assuming, that burned that part of the forest and made that a soft spot for maple syrup. All around there, it's Christmas trees. So it's rare to have maple trees there."
Roussel talks about maple syrup like he would his children, and yes, he puts it on almost everything, including toast every morning when he was playing in the AHL. It tastes good in yogurt and "anything really because it's full of antioxidants and it's the best sugar you can get on the market."
Clearly Troy Stecher agrees.
Although he was a labourer at first, watching the maple syrup process in awe, helping where he could, Roussel recently took his knowledge a step further. Roussel suffered a torn ACL mid-March last season, which kept him out the line-up for eight-and-a-half months. Unsure how to best make use of his time, Roussel enrolled in online maple syrup classes at Laval University.
"I wanted to learn everything I could about the history of maple syrup and syrup production. That kept me busy, so I didn't lose my mind when I wasn't playing. It was a very interesting experience."
Where is this sticky goodness sold? Mainly farmer's markets or at the farm in Quebec. If you happen to visit in the summer, ask for Antoine, chances are he's there helping out. Anything to be part of the team.