confidence has a look about him — one that exudes determination and paves the way to success.
No Wild player in the early part of the 2005-2006 season has had that look more than Pierre-Marc Bouchard. In his third NHL season, he has raised his game to a new level, and thrust himself into a major role with the hockey club. Bouchard has taken to the new NHL and has shown off the skills that got him drafted in the first round in 2002.
His play has caught the eye of everyone all around the NHL, and he has the look of a developing young star.
Scoring is up and the fans have really taken to the new NHL. What about the players? Is the game more fun for guys too?
Yeah, it is definitely more fun. Hopefully, the refs are going to keep calling the game the way they are calling it now. It has made the game fun to watch and fun to play. There is more room out there and the skilled player has a chance to show what they can do. It’s been very interesting for me being one of the smaller players on the ice. There is more a little bit more room to roam out there now.
Can you explain why the crackdown on obstruction has had such a big impact?
There is less grabbing, less hooking now. When you are skating and you have a step on someone, there is no way he can grab you and hold you like in the past. That has given all of us a chance to go to the net and create more scoring chances.
As a player, can you recognize a change in the pace of the game also? Is the game even faster now?
It is definitely a lot faster. Teams are now building to succeed under the new rules, and that means that everyone has fast skaters. If you want to be competitive in the NHL now, you’ve got to be quick because there is less time to think with the new rules.
Despite a whole year off and the addition of some new faces to the lineup, the Wild got off to a solid start this year. Why do you think things have clicked so quickly for you and your teammates?
We’ve got a good lineup for the new rules that the league put in. We’ve got a lot of speed and a lot of skill. Plus, guys are working hard and the coaching staff had us prepared with a good game plan each night we hit the ice. We go out and make sure we take care of every little detail. Also, our goalies have been pretty good, and have given a chance to win every night we play. Hopefully, things keep going along like that.
You’ve started this season off very strong by providing offense and creativity to the Wild lineup. What has led to the early success for you personally?
| With the crackdown on obstruction, the 5-foot-10 Bouchard has had an easier time maneuvering in 2005. |
I think when the team is playing good, it’s easier for you to succeed personally. My biggest thing is confidence. When you start rolling, playing good, playing with confidence — that’s when you get some good games under your belt, help the team win and put up some numbers. I want to keep that going for the whole year.
You were in and out of the lineup your first two years in the NHL, but things changed last season. You got the chance to play a full season with the Houston Aeros and led them in scoring with 54 points. How important was that experience, and how much did it help to play in every kind of situation while you were there?
It helped a lot. While I hoped there would be no lockout, it still was a good year for me. It was fun to play in Houston and get to play every night. My first two years here (in Minnesota) had been in and out, but there I knew I was playing every game. That really helped me get my confidence back. In Juniors, I was always on the ice, playing in every situation. Then, when I came here, I wasn’t playing as much. So last year was great because I got plenty of ice time, got to play on the power play and got to contribute to the team.
Is there a different comfort level for you this year with the Wild knowing that you are going to play a much bigger role and be counted on to perform night-in and night-out?
I certainly feel way more comfortable out there. I’ve got a couple of years under my belt, and I know how things go now. I’m comfortable in terms of what I need to do to get ready for a game both on the off the ice. I feel good and ready to play every night, and help the team win.
You were drafted by the Wild in 2002 and got the opportunity to play in the NHL immediately. How big of an impact on your development and your career did that have?
It helped me a lot. I came here when I was 18-years-old and began preparing to be an NHL player. Everyone knows the Wild is good about developing and taking care of its young players. Players like myself, Gabby (Marian Gaborik), Burnsie (Brent Burns) and Schultzy (Nick Schultz) all got the chance to play early in their careers. I wasn’t in the lineup every day, but just to get the chance to practice and learn from the coaching staff really improved my game.
A major sign of your development and the team’s trust in you can be seen on the club’s power
play. You have been stationed on the point in the early parts of the season, and the power play has been clicking. How different is that role compared to playing down low with the man-advantage?
| With exceptional on-ice vision, Bouchard has been trusted to quarterback the Wild’s potent power play. |
It’s pretty different. I had not really played on the point at all in my career. During a game early this season, Jacques (Lemaire) just asked me to go play the point. It was new, but the more that I play there, the more confident I get. It’s an adjustment but I’m getting better at playing along the blue line. It’s fun to get things rolling, and see the power play working good. We moved the puck real well early and got some goals.
Why do you think they tried you there? What parts of your game really translate to being effective on the point?
You get the puck often on the point, and you have to know where everyone is on the ice. At the point, I’m trying to draw players to me, then move the puck as quick as I can. You are responsible for creating some chances for the other four players on the ice, and I think that is one of my strengths.
Everyone is waiting for the booming slap shot from the point. Are you going to unveil that soon?
I’m working on that — I’m working on my shot, but right now if I’m going to take a shot it’s just going to be for a rebound or a re-direct. Mostly, I’m going to try feed the guys up front and help them score some goals.
Canada released its preliminary list of players eligible to play for its Olympic team in 2006 and your name was on it. How did that make you feel?
It was a great honor, but I was surprised. I really didn’t expect to be on that list, but it’s fun to see. Some people saw how my game has improved and how I’ve been playing this year, and felt I deserved to be on the list. We’ll see what happens over the winter, but you never know.
You have had a lot of experience playing in international tournaments with Team Canada on the Junior level, what is it like to represent your country and wear the sweater of your homeland?
It’s fun to play for your country but, more importantly, it’s a great honor. I think I’ve done it three times so far at the Junior level. Hockey is huge in Canada so you want to do well and represent your country the right way. For sure you have some pressure — but it’s a good pressure.
How are those games, that competition different than playing in the NHL?
| Bouchard is living up to expectations after he became the Wild’s first round pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. |
Usually it’s a short tournament so every game is really, really intense and a must-win situation. You also are competing against the best players of every country whenever you step out on the ice to play. There is always great skill and competition at the
As a kid growing up in Canada were your dreams solely focused on making the NHL or did you think about pulling on the Team Canada sweater and playing for your country?
Oh yeah, for sure. Especially since I’ve been in the Junior program and played for my country. I would love the chance to play in the Olympics.
This is your fourth year of pro hockey and your third at the NHL level. How much have things changed for you since that moment in Toronto when you heard your name called at the draft?
I’ve matured, and probably have experience a lot more than your normal 20-year-old has. Since I was 18 and came to Minnesota, I’ve been hanging around with guys that are already married, have kids, and stuff like that. It was a big difference from what I was used to in Juniors.
What was it like being a kid in Canada and growing up playing the game of hockey? Did you eat, sleep and drink the sport?
Pretty much. Since I was a kid, I have just absolutely loved the game. I’d go to school where you go through your studies in the morning, than you’d go on the ice and play hockey for two hours every day. I did that program for five years. Plus, at night, you had your regular team that you played for and had to go to practice. So I was going to school, eating and playing hockey. Plus, my friends and I would always be playing too — street hockey or whatever outside. All my free time revolved around having fun and playing hockey. When you are kid back in Canada, everyone is playing the sport so it’s a big thing. Everyone loves it. Even if I had a day off during the winter, I’d be going out on the pond and playing with my friends. I just love it.
As your career progressed and you reached the Junior level, were you forced to leave home and your family to chase your dream? How tough was that experience for you?
I stayed home until I was 16. After that I was drafted by Chicoutimi which was about five hour drive from my family and my home. I left home when I was 16 and it was tough. But, when you think about it, if you want to improve your game and achieve your dreams you have to do it. I was lucky to get into a good place, with a good team and in a good city. It was hard to “quit” my family and move away for year, but they came and visited a lot.
Do you think that experience helped your adjustment to life in the NHL and a completely new home in Minnesota as an 18-year-old?
Yeah, it was pretty much the same thing. I was away from home when I was 16 and 17, so I was used to that. It wasn’t as big a deal to leave this time, as it was the first time for Juniors.
You have a younger brother who plays hockey and is following similar path that you did in your career. Have you talked to him or given him an advice on how to deal with chasing his dream and preparing for a career in hockey?
He’s 17 right now — playing his second year of Juniors. This year is also the year he is eligible for the Entry Draft. As far as advice for him or any other young player — it’s tough. Every player has his own route or way to get to the NHL. For some, things get easier as they get better, but for others they need to work even harder to reach their dreams. You have to work hard every day and keep thinking positive about achieving your dream.
You hear so many stories about kids getting burnt out on the game, yet you’ve been playing since you were four years old and there never seems to be a time where it looks like you are struggling with the game. How do you keep it fun, how do you stay in love with the game despite all that you have to put into it to succeed?
I don’t know if I can really explain it. I just love the game so much. It’s great fun — you’re on the ice, it’s competitive. I love the competition. Everyday is a competition, even in practice when you are battling against your teammates. Then, you play the game and come into the dressing room and hang out with a good bunch of guys — make some jokes, play some ping-pong. Plus, you get to travel on the road and see the world. It’s a fun life, and it doesn’t feel like work for me. There are some tough times, but you challenge yourself to find a way to battle through and make the best of it. •