Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Joel Bouchard, Training Camp, Schedule, ECHL, Trois-Rivieres

Joel Bouchard (Photo by TVA Sports)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. —  The Laval Rocket’s training camp began on Friday at the Bell Centre with 32 invited players. Jesse Ylonen, Arsen Khisamutdinov, and Corey Shueneman will join the the squad on the 29th, following their mandatory quarantine as they arrived from outside of Canada.

Kaiden Guhle, Jan Mysak, Gianni Fairbrother, and Jacob LeGuerrier were allowed to join camp as the activities of their respective Canadian Hockey League teams are on pause.

The roster has been split into two groups. The first group consists of the players that were part of Team White at the Canadiens camp, while the second group consists of players that hadn’t recently skated as they had to quarantine before camp.

Intra-Squad Games

The first group has been practising at a harder pace in preparation of a potential call up by Montreal. “The science tells me, my eyes tell me, and my feeling tells me that at this moment if there’s a recall needed, I can confirm that our guys are almost ready for the NHL,” Joel Bouchard said on Sunday.

On Monday, the first group played an intra-squad game at the Bell Centre. There’s two more intra-squad games scheduled for Thursday in Brossard and Sunday at the Bell Centre.

“I really liked our scrimmage today. I thought a lot of stuff that we worked on, the guys were applying. I thought the pace was quite high, really nice execution, the score was 6-5, and a lot of competition between both teams. The guys were really dialed in to be honest, and it’s been like this since day 1,” Bouchard said following Monday’s intra-squad.

Visit The AHL Report daily for complete coverage of training camp, including audio from the Zoom calls.

Schedule

The American Hockey League (AHL) unveiled the schedule for the 2020-21 season, that begins on February 5th. The schedule for the Canadian Division will be announced at a later date. The Rocket are expected to play a total of 36 games against the Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies, and Manitoba Moose.

“I think we’re lucky just to be playing – that’s the way I see it. I would have played the same team all over again for 40 games, I’m just happy to be playing right now,” forward Alex Belzile said.

“It’s certainly going to create rivalries. It happens often when you play against the same team for several games. It will be extremely competitive. With the last year that we just went through with the pandemic and all, I think just the fact to be able to play games, to be able to compete, and be on the ice, it’s a big plus – a bonus for us. At this point, we’re excited to be able to play games,” defenceman Xavier Ouellet.

ECHL Affiliate

Last week, the Canadiens announced a three-year affiliation with the hockey franchise in Trois-Rivières. The deal will make Trois-Rivières, the organization’s ECHL affiliate as of the 2021-22 season.

It’s a perfect match between the two organizations. Mark Weightman, President and CEO of the Trois-Rivières franchise, was the Rocket’s former president, and former Canadien Marc-André Bergeron is the general manager.

“The last couple of seasons, we haven’t had an ECHL affiliate, a primary affiliate. We’ve spread our players around the League a bit. That was something we were looking to change,” said John Sedgwick, Canadiens’ Vice-President of Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs.

When the Rocket needed to send a player to the ECHL, Bouchard typically called Daniel Brière for assistance. Brière, general manager of the Maine Mariners and personal friend of Bouchard, was the primary recipient of Laval’s players. The Mariners are affiliated with the Rangers and prioritize their players over those of other organizations.

Michael McNiven was forced to play for the three different ECHL teams last season because the Canadiens organization didn’t have their own affiliate. It was not a good way to manage prospect development.

The Canadiens haven’t had a sole affiliation with an ECHL team since the 2016-17 season,  splitting an affiliate with Ottawa in 2017-18 and have had no ECHL affiliation at all since then.

“Proximity is a tremendous advantage, being just a little over an hour away from Laval and Montreal is great for us. It will allow us to do a lot more with the ECHL, things like loaning an injured player coming back who needs some game reps or just getting a player that’s been out of the lineup some game reps,” added Sedgwick.

Local Development 

The city’s response to the announcement has been positive. TVA Network reported that one of the 20 available loges has already been sold to a local business.

“While contributing to the development of hockey in Mauricie and Quebec, this affiliation with the Canadiens will add credibility and notoriety to our project of bringing hockey back to Trois-Rivières,” said Weightman via news release.

Weightman and Bergeron will prioritize local talent for different roles within the organization ranging from the players to the coaching staff.

“Often, there’s a lot of local players that are on ECHL rosters. When you’re a guy from Quebec that goes to play in another city, it’s not always easy, so it will be good having a local team here,” Rocket forward Yannick Veilleux said. Veilleux has played 98 career ECHL games in Kalamazoo and Brampton. The veteran added that if Trois-Rivières was around, it would have been his first choice.

“The ECHL is also a conduit to professional hockey for players leaving Canadian university hockey. There’s some very strong programs in the province. It’ll give us a good opportunity to get a look at these players as they turn pro,” Sedgwick said.

Connecting Fans

“We are excited about the thought of our fans cheering on a group of prospects that one day may play for the Canadiens. I am convinced that an affiliation with the Canadiens will create a passionate connection within our fanbase,” Weightman said.

Brett Kulak, and Ben Chiarot played in the ECHL earlier in their career. Alex Belzile, that played for the Canadiens in their recent playoff run, has played 168 career games in the ECHL.

By Chris G., Senior Writer.
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2021 Rocket Sports

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