“There are a lot of calls that I wouldn’t have taken, but when Julien BriseBois calls, I think you answer. »
It’s a nice compliment that Joël Bouchard gave his new boss, but the compliment also says a lot about Bouchard himself and where he is in his career.
The Syracuse Crunch announced Monday the appointment of Bouchard as head coach. The Tampa Bay Lightning academy has also hired Bouchard’s loyal sidekick Daniel Jacob as an assistant coach.
“The Lightning is a brand organization. Dan and I are blessed to have had the call. What they have accomplished in the National League and the American League is exceptional. The discussion with Julien was, “Come on and do what you’re doing.” Just a call to go back behind the bench without being comfortable… I’m not there in my career. »
Bouchard spent the last season away from the hockey benches. Still co-owner and vice-president, hockey operations, of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, he also worked as an analyst at TVA Sports. Now here he is beginning a third term in the AHL. He coached the Laval Rocket for three years, before a one-season stint with Anaheim Ducks affiliate, the San Diego Gulls.
It’s hard to measure his success with playoff performance, as there hasn’t been a playoff tournament in two of his four seasons behind the bench. On an individual level, Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard are the main players he managed and who established themselves full-time in the NHL.
That said, after two short breaks, does he feel pressure to make his job with the Crunch more sustainable?
“The American League is very different from other leagues,” he explains. I didn’t leave Laval because I wasn’t happy. I had an extraordinary offer with Anaheim, but it was an opportunity that changed for the reasons we know [the general manager at the time, Bob Murray, resigned at the start of the season].
“In Laval, I was with a team that I knew well and we had great progress, the last year had been extraordinary. In San Diego, it was people I knew less, we had to play defenders on offense, and some nights we had 18 players instead of 20. It was not easy, without GM for several month. With Dan and Max [Talbot], we didn’t make excuses with it, we said we were going to do the best we can. And we started from the lowlands to go up. »
Bouchard does not arrive alone in Syracuse, since Daniel Jacob will follow him again. Jacob was Bouchard’s assistant in Laval, San Diego and with the Armada from 2014 to 2018.
“We speak the same language,” Bouchard said. Daniel is able to challenge me, he is a brilliant guy, who brings a great energy to the team, with a lot of skills, who understands how I like things to work. We have a good progress as a duo. »
Today’s announcement comes with some intrigue, however. Bouchard succeeds Benoît Groulx, but in the press release, the Crunch specifies that Groulx will be offered “another position in the organization”. Groulx had been running the Crunch since 2016. Éric Veilleux and Gilles Bouchard, Groulx’s assistants, are leaving the organization.
And Groulx is also a good friend of Bouchard. The latter managed Groulx’s son, Benoît-Olivier, in San Diego, but the relationship is even deeper, since Benoît Groulx stays in Bouchard’s condo in the summer.
“Julien makes the decisions he has to make. They are three American League caliber guys. Éric and Gilles are outstanding coaches. Ben has done some pretty amazing stuff in Syracuse. Look at the number of guys who have come through here and helped Tampa win the Cup. I have no worries for them, because they are good coaches. »
It will be interesting to see if Groulx, after seven years in the American League, can advance to the NHL this summer. Last summer, persistent rumors sent him to join his good friend André Tourigny at the Arizona Coyotes, but nothing had materialized.
Definitely, the summer of 2023 will be the summer of all the changes in the French-speaking coaching community. In addition to the staff changes mentioned above, Stéphane Julien was hired as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins, a school club for the Detroit Red Wings. In the QMJHL, Sylvain Favreau has resigned as head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads after six seasons. According to the count of RDS colleague Stéphane Leroux, there are currently eight vacant head coaching positions in the QMJHL.