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AHL Notebook: Bouchard brings intensity to Laval

Canadiens affiliate among dozen to feature new coaches for 2018-19

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

Montreal Canadiens prospects in the American Hockey League learn quickly the scrutiny that awaits if they make the final step to the NHL.

That begins with new Laval coach Joel Bouchard, one of 12 AHL coaching changes made during the offseason.

Laval plays a short drive from Bell Centre in Montreal. Canadiens management has made it a priority to stress the organization's rich history to AHL prospects as part of their development.

Iconic moments in Canadiens history are marked throughout Place Bell, Laval's home rink. The piercing eyes of Montreal icon Maurice Richard stare down at them from a painting on a wall inside the year-old building.

Those eyes might not be the most intense they will see on a given day, however.

"Intense" is the word that repeatedly comes up when players are asked to describe Bouchard, 44, who brought 364 NHL regular-season games and 14 pro seasons as a defenseman to this position. He also had post-playing stints in broadcasting and business before going into coaching.

Change is everywhere in Laval after a last-place finish in 2017-18 and the demand to send finished products to Montreal.

Five of the 24 players who appeared in at least 20 games with Laval last season have returned after the Canadiens' massive offseason reconstruction at the AHL level.

Bouchard arrived from nearby Blainville-Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he was the general manager and coach. Blainville-Boisbriand went 50-11-4-3, finishing atop the QWMJHL standings and No. 3 in the Canadian Hockey League poll.

He also was part of Canada's management team at the past two IIHF World Junior Championship tournaments, winning a silver medal in 2017 and a gold medal last season.

A taste of the Montreal-style passion arrived for the home opener Oct. 12, a 5-2 win against Binghamton (New Jersey Devils) before a loud crowd that was televised across Canada on RDS.

"If you want to play in the NHL, it's not going to get any easier from now," Bouchard said. "[In the AHL], you're getting mileage. This is as close to the NHL as it will [get] for them in a building [this] nice, a big crowd like that, an intensity, and quite a high level of hockey."

That intensity continued into the next work week.

A Monday after a busy weekend is typically a time to ease back into work in the AHL. That was not the case in Laval, where Bouchard's booming voice echoed throughout Place Bell amid a grueling practice, heavy on skating drills.

"I don't know how many teams around the league are doing [this] on a Monday," said forward Kenny Agostino, a major offseason free agent signing. "It's the way he is as a coach, and I think we're all really responding well to it, especially for a lot of the young guys."

"I think most people would say that he is tough but fair. He fires us all up."

Bouchard has gotten his veterans to buy in early.

Forward Alexandre Grenier compared Bouchard to Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green. Grenier played four AHL seasons for Green in Utica as a Canucks prospect.

Forward Hunter Shinkaruk also played for Green in the AHL and made the same unsolicited comparison.

"[Bouchard and Green are] hard on you, but they played the game and know what it takes," Shinkaruk said. "He is black and white. You know when you played well, and you know when you didn't. That's what I think that players like. They want to know where they stand."

There is a method to the tough love from Bouchard, who often lived life on the NHL-AHL bubble and understands the challenges of that spot on the depth chart.

"There is no university of hockey," he said. "There is no place where you can go sit in a chair and say, 'I'm learning hockey.'

"You have to live it. The hard times and the good times. The pressure times, you need to live a few Game 7 [situations] to know how to manage them, and you need to live those higher expectations that you have about yourself and that the organization will have."

As mentioned, there are new coaches aside from Bouchard scattered across the AHL.

Greg Cronin took over Colorado (Colorado Avalanche) after leaving the New York Islanders. Jay Woodcroft joined Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers), where former NHL defenseman Dave Manson was named associate coach.

Ben Simon went from assistant to coach in Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) and Cail MacLean did the same in Stockton (Calgary Flames). Spencer Carbery departed Providence (Boston Bruins) to take over Hershey (Washington Capitals) and Tim Army headed west from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh Penguins) to Iowa (Minnesota Wild). Karl Taylor moved within the Central Division from Calder Cup finalist Texas (Dallas Stars) to lead Milwaukee (Nashville Predators).

The Ontario Hockey League also provided two coaches. Drew Bannister parlayed his CHL coach of the year honor into a spot with San Antonio (St. Louis Blues), and Jay Varady landed with Tucson (Arizona Coyotes).

Mark Dennehy left Merrimack University for a job with Binghamton. Troy Mann, a mainstay in Hershey, went to Belleville (Ottawa Senators).

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