Rocket de Laval: younger, but with the same DNA

The Laval Rocket qualified for the playoffs for the first time in club history last season. Jean-François Houle’s team even went one win away from taking part in the Calder Cup final. An encouraging performance for the organization of the Canadiens.

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However, everything has to be started over. Like the big club, the Rocket has undergone several changes since June 15, the date of its elimination in the semi-finals against the Thunderbirds in Springfield.

The Laval formation lost several large pieces during the summer season. This is standard for an American Hockey League (AHL) team.

“We will be a lot younger in defense. On offense, it’s going to look a lot like what we had last year, mentions Jean-François Houle during an interview with The newspaper. Our philosophy remains the same: to develop in a winning environment. »

“At the start of the season, there will be a lot of adjustments with all the young players we have. Last year, we built a good culture. »

“We still want to be a team that is difficult to face. It will still be part of our DNA, ”he warns.

A hole in defense

When looking at the Rocket’s roster, one thing stands out. The defense suffered several significant losses.

Xavier Ouellet, who was the team captain, Louie Belpedio, Sami Niku and Tobie Paquette-Bisson decided to try their luck elsewhere. They formed the first two pairs of the Rocket in the last series.

It means that a young defender could have several minutes of play if he started the season in Laval. Valuable time that could help him refine certain aspects of his game.

« The AHL is a very good league, » says Houle. Some young people think they will come and burn the league, but it does not work like that. »

“We expect our young defenders to make mistakes. We will live with them and it will be up to us to correct them so that they become better. Young people always need adaptation,” he adds.

good veterans

Despite the many departures, Houle can count on a group of solid veterans. We can think of a core composed of Gabriel Bourque, Danick Martel, Alex Belzile and Brandon Gignac.

“We have good veterans, mentions the Rocket driver. Their chances of playing in the NHL are less, but they know they have to take responsibility with our young people. »

Competing in the playoffs for a second year in a row is not an unattainable goal despite the organization’s youth shift.

“Last season, the Rochester Americans made it to the playoffs despite being a very young roster. It’s possible. On the other hand, it will be necessary to play with consistency despite the recalls and the injuries

Crucial communication

The Rocket and the Canadiens want to be on the same page in terms of development

The Canadian will be in reconstruction this year. It will be a development season with the big club, but also with the Rocket.

Several young players will obtain auditions with the Montreal team. The metro’s orange line could be very busy during the winter.

For operations to be effective, it will be important that the coaches of both teams work in unison.

“It will be important to have good communication, explains Jean-François Houle. We have to know the things he needs to work on to get back into the NHL. »

“We must also have the vision of the organization for this player. We will work closely with the members of the player development department who will be very present in Laval this season, ”he specifies.

Nick Carrière, Francis Bouillon, Rob Ramage, Scott Pellerin and Adam Nicholas have already displayed their colors in this regard. They intend to offer a personalized service to the hopefuls of the Canadian.

old acquaintances

When they first met, Jean-François Houle and Martin St-Louis didn’t need an introduction.

The two coaches have known each other for several years and they have several things in common.

First, they competed at the midget AAA level in the 1991-92 season. St-Louis finished first in league scoring with 103 points in 42 games while playing for the Régents de Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière.

During that time, Houle had collected 75 points in 40 games with the Lac St-Louis Lions. He finished fourth in the league.

Subsequently, they decided to take the path of American universities. St-Louis had taken over the management of the University of
Vermont while Houle had chosen to wear the colors of Clarkson’s Golden Knights.

If the pro career of St-Louis brought him to the Hall of Fame, that of Houle was not so fruitful.

The latter became a coach because of his excellent teaching skills. His successes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and in the American Hockey League prove that he has chosen the right path.

Ready for all hopes…even Slafkovsky!

Juraj Slafkovsky

Photo archives, QMI Agency

Juraj Slafkovsky

Expectations are high for rookie Juraj Slafkovsky. For the development of the first choice in total, it is not excluded that he plays a few games with the Laval Rocket.

The head coach of the school club is ready for this eventuality.

“It would not be the first to end up in the AHL, explains Jean-François Houle. If Slafkovsky came to play with the Rocket, it wouldn’t add more pressure on me or the other coaches. »

“We try to stay in the moment. We don’t look too far ahead. I know first-round picks who played 100 games in the AHL before making it to the NHL. »

» This is not the end of the world. »

He cites the case of Cole Caufield as an example. The striker had a tough time with the Canadiens last season. Marc Bergevin had decided to send him to the American League so that he could find his bearings.

“It’s difficult for the youngster. He is disappointed. Our job is to temper the situation and help them as much as possible. It is important to have good communication with them. »

“The American League is part of a journey. It is important for a young player to play in this circuit. »

The Puljujarvi case

Houle could have a feeling of deja vu if Slafkovsky were to play a few games in the AHL this season.

Back when he was in the Oilers organization
from Edmonton, he remembers the case of Jesse Puljujarvi. In his first year in North America, the one who had been selected fourth overall had needed a stay of several weeks with the Bakersfield Condors.

“If an NHL team sends a prospect who was selected very high, it’s because they want to give him more ice time. It can also be to give him the chance to evolve on the special teams. »

“In this type of situation, the attitude of the young person is also important. He must often understand that not everything is due to him. It is an apprenticeship. »


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