With just under 800 active players in the NHL, represented by 15 different nationalities, and spread throughout 31 cities across North America, it's easy to forget how small the hockey world actually is. It's a strange reality that, on occasion, even perplexes the members of the exclusive inner circle.
Just ask the Isles Quebec natives Anthony Beauvillier and Derick Brassard.
Over the summer, Brassard signed a one-year deal with the Isles. When exploring his options as a free agent, the Hull, Quebec native sought insight from Beauvillier, a native of Sorel-Tracey, Quebec, as the duo crossed paths at the Montreal Pro League summer skates. It wasn't until after Brassard inked his contract and arrived on Long Island, that the epiphany struck; Beauvillier and Brassard's history dates back to nearly a decade ago.
The original meeting occurred when Beauvillier's older brother Francis was playing in midget triple A and exploring the agent pool. Brassard, who was just beginning his NHL career, was in town with his agent and joined the outing to meet the Beauvilliers at one of Francis' games before continuing the conversations over dinner. Beauvillier was just a pre-teen at the time, but fondly remembers being in awe of getting to meet Brassard in person.
"It was a really cool experience," Beauvillier recalled. "He remembers it well. We talked about it. It's crazy where hockey can bring you together. As a little kid, I got a picture with him or asked him to sign something. It's crazy, right?"
That was just the beginning. Upon Brassard's arrival to the Island and after posting up for one week at the Marriott hotel, he ended up moving in with Beauvillier until he found a place of his own. Despite the 10-year age gap, Brassard (32) and Beauvillier (22), immediately hit it off.
"It's a lot more comfortable being in a house than a hotel," Brassard said. "[When I was there it] was his house and his rules, even if I have nine or 10 years on him. We had fun. We're going for dinner every night and am getting to know him a little more. It's nice. I've been in that situation before. In the past, I always welcomed some younger guys to live with me during camp or during the season."
Rooming with teammates has become a tradition and a right of passing of sorts in the NHL. In most cases, established veteran players will house the wide-eyed youngsters; a way to help ease the transition and build camaraderie. Mario Lemieux did so with his successor in Sidney Crosby, Dennis Seidenberg took in Mathew Barzal during his rookie year, and even Brassard housed the youth of Thomas Chabot, Colin White and Ryan Dzingel during his two seasons in Ottawa.
"It is funny being the younger guy taking in the older guy," Beauvillier said of housing a 13-year vet. "We don't get too caught up on that though. We do give it to each other from time-to-time. It's easy because of the age difference sometimes, but it's been nice. He's been in the league for a long time and I had the chance to work out with him this summer. He's well-known back home and has been a good player for a long time. I ask him about some experiences and stories, stuff that guys [elsewhere in the NHL] do."
While Beauvillier has three seasons under his belt and is a favorite in the locker room, with his younger-brother-esque personality, there's a level of comfort that comes with having a fellow Quebecer around.
"I haven't had any guys in the last few years to speak French with," Beauvillier said. "Just [having] the same culture. It's different with French-English, everything is really different. It's fun to have a guy like that around. It feels a little more like home. It feels a little more like family and it's easier to express yourself in French than in English."
Whether it's grabbing dinner - Brassard is not shy to critique Beauvillier's choice in dining - debating songs to listen to in the car - where Beauvillier dishes it back to Brassard - or just having a conversation in their mother tongue, the pair have become fast friends. Brassard has since moved out of chez Beauvillier, but after starting two Netflix shows together - the pals got hooked on Animal Kingdom and a french show called Lance et compte - they still see plenty of each other away from the rink.
Mathew Barzal, Beauvillier's partner-in-crime over the past two years, has at times found himself taking the backseat to the Quebecers' banter. But if anything, the trio have come together to develop quite the unique dynamic and friendship.
"I'd say Brass is still the third wheel, but there's definitely sometimes where it's me," Barzal said. "They were living [together] there for a bit and I was left out, but it's nice to have Brass here. He's a little bit older, but he's got a young soul. Me and Brass kind of gang up on Beau a bit. We kind of give it to him together. It's not always just me and Beau or Beau and Brass. We all hang out together. [Brassard] is a nice addition and a really good guy."
Beauvillier and Brassard spent most of training camp on a line together but were then separated to start the season as Beauvillier switched to Brock Nelson's wing and Brassard occupied the third-line center spot. Brassard got off to a slow start to the season offensively, as he was forced to play more of a defensive role with an early season injury to Casey Cizikas. Cizikas' injury also cost Brassard a veteran linemate in Leo Komarov, who shifted to the fourth line.
Fast forward a few weeks and injuries to Jordan Eberle, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Martin and Komarov forced Head Coach Barry Trotz to shake up his lines. The coach moved Brassard to the wing alongside Beauvillier and Brock Nelson and while Brassard's position changed, the top-six role was familiar and has unlocked his offensive skillset.
Video: PHI@NYI: Brassard finishes slick give-and-go
Brassard has since posted a three-game goal streak (four points) and demonstrated his adept hockey IQ, playmaking abilities and has shown a nice chemistry with his new linemates. Beauvillier, who started the season off hot with four points (2G, 2A) in four games, now has six points (2G, 4A) in 11 games and has been one of the Islanders most reliable forwards night-in and night-out. Nelson has lived up to the #Brocktober hype with 10 points (4G, 6A) through 11 games.
"Out of necessity of having a few people out, we put that line together," Trotz said. "I think we have three guys that have good offensive instincts, but what I like about them right now is that they're probably as good defensively, if not better, in their own zone than I would have thought. They were concentrating on it and got lots of offense out of it. I think they're a good compliment to one another and just playing the right way."
Brassard, who admits he's more comfortable down the center, has effortlessly fit outside of Nelson and Beauvillier. The line's chemistry was on full display as the Islanders claimed their seventh-straight with a 5-3 win over Philadelphia on Oct. 27. Beauvillier was on the ice as Brassard took a return feed from Nelson to create a give-and-go off the rush and finished the play by roofing his shot over Carter Hart's shoulder.
"It's clicking," Brassard said. "We're playing with each other. We're making plays. We're missing a few guys, so we know we have to step up and play well for the team. [Our line] is going really well right now."
A decade after their first brief encounter, Brassard and Beauvillier didn't envision they'd find themselves on the same team let alone gelling on the same line, but sometimes that's just the novel way hockey players' paths overlap.