THE CUBE COMES HOME
had a memorable return trip to his hometown of Montreal, making his presence felt both on and off the ice.
His birth certificate says that he was born in New York City, but for Predators defenseman Francis Bouillon
, Montreal is home. It is not just the city in which he grew up though; he also spent nine seasons wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
When the Predators traveled north of the border for last Thursday’s game with the Habs, Bouillon played his first-ever road contest at the Bell Centre. For many NHL players, Montreal is their favorite road city to play a game because of the overall atmosphere that exists in the Bell Centre. It is not the historic old Montreal Forum, but they are still skating underneath the banners of the 24-time Stanley Cup winners as well as all of the retired numbers of hockey legends with names like Richard, Geoffrion, and Beliveau just to name a few.
“I was kind of nervous before that game,” Bouillon said. “That game in Montreal meant a lot for me.”
The nerves did not get the best of him though, as he posted two assists and a team-leading six hits in the 3-0 victory for the Predators. His contributions to that victory earned Bouillon the designation of being named the game’s Third Star.
In Montreal, the fans are the ones who select the game’s Three Stars. When visiting players are named as stars in a game in most NHL cities, it is not always a common practice for them to take their victory skate back onto the ice, but for Bouillon, it was an honor to come back out and salute the Montreal fans. That honor was returned to him in the form of a standing ovation that was partly due to his play that evening but also a salute to his nine seasons as a Canadien.
“I played a good game, and they gave me a great ovation for the Third Star,” Bouillon said. “I wasn’t expecting a big ovation, because in some places they boo their ex-players. It was a great thing when I was there in Montreal and have the people cheer for me.”
Taking their cue from their teammate, Marcel Goc and Pekka Rinne
, Nashville’s other two players who were named stars in that game, also returned to the ice and received a nice hand from the Montreal faithful.
“It was nice for Frankie that they gave him a standing ovation,” Rinne, who played his first-ever game in Montreal said.
That special evening may have never materialized for Bouillon had it not been for an organization known as Les Jeunes Sportifs de Hochelaga, or JSH. Translated into English, the organization’s name means the young athletes of Hochelaga.
Bouillon grew up in the poor Montreal district of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve or Ho-Ma for short. Equipment and registration fees can be a barrier for kids from families without a lot of money to ever begin playing hockey, but JSH breaks down those barriers for children in their neighborhood.
“They really helped us when I was a kid because we didn’t have much money,” Bouillon said “We had a great help from that organization. They loaned all the equipment like skates.”
In recent years, JSH has run into some difficulty of its own. A building that the organization owned fell into disrepair and the financial strain was threatening JSH’s existence. For a player famous for playing the game of hockey with so much heart, it was an easy decision for Bouillon to open up his wallet for the organization that he holds so close to that heart. He led a group that bought the building and will convert it into affordable condominiums to be sold. The money raised from those sales will go to JSH.
“The minor hockey association I played for had a tough time with their building having it go into bankruptcy,” Bouillon said. “Me and two partners bought the building and now the organization is fine. Now we have to transform the building into condominiums and everybody appreciates that.”
At the top of the list of people who appreciate Bouillon’s generosity is JSH President Pierre Lavoie. Lavoie was one of more than 20 friends and family to addend last week’s game in Montreal as a guest of Bouillon.
Bouillon’s group is known as Usine 51. The proceeds from the sales of the 75 condos under development will keep JSH afloat, and by keeping JSH functioning, neighborhood kids will continue to benefit.
“Now I am pretty lucky to play in the NHL, and I know that I can help them,” Bouillon said.
To anyone that knows him, it is no surprise that Bouillon is showing the same kind of leadership away from the rink as he does inside of it. On the ice, he is a fierce competitor and a great teammate. In the absence of fellow blueliner Ryan Suter
from the Nashville lineup, Bouillon is one of the players the coaching staff has tabbed to wear the assistant captain’s “A” from time to time.
So the next time a kid from Ho-Ma wants to give the sport of hockey a try, he or she will be able to thanks to the good work of JSH and a famous alumnus.
Translated into English, JSH’s slogan is, “For the future of our youth, I am involved.”
Consider Bouillon involved. It is just one more thing worthy of a standing ovation for number 51.