(Laval) The Laval Rocket continue to be the envy of American Hockey League players, according to forward Anthony Richard.

The latter found himself in the opposing camp at Place Bell last spring, losing with the Syracuse Crunch while the approximately 10,000 spectators made the building vibrate. Even though the Rocket’s playoff run has been short this season – only two games and only one at home – Richard expects all Quebecers who make their mark in the American League to ask their agent to contact the Canadiens de Montreal, and even players from elsewhere.

Since the Habs set up their school club on Île Jésus, the focus has been on acquiring Quebec players and that seems to be paying off.

Richard noted that the excitement surrounding the presentation of the AHL All-Star Game in February has not gone unnoticed. The players present, regardless of their origin, were impressed by the festive atmosphere during the event, which does not generally attract much interest.

A total of 17 Quebec native players donned the Rocket uniform this winter. And even if some have gone from rival to teammate, like Richard, this element is part of the team’s winning recipe.

“There really is a family spirit here,” Richard said. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived at camp, even though I had faced quite a few in the playoffs last year and sometimes a lot is said on the ice! But guys like (Brandon) Gignac, Rafaël (Harvey-Pinard) and (Danick) Martel welcomed me on the first day and things clicked immediately. »

“If you’re into playing in the American League and you’re from Quebec, that makes the experience more special,” he added.

In these circumstances, it would not necessarily be surprising to see the locker room divided between French-speaking, English-speaking and European players. On the contrary, the players questioned about it on Saturday during the Rocket’s end-of-season report also praised the merits of their experience with the team.

“It speaks a lot of French, but you get used to it,” said defenseman Corey Schueneman, who is a native of Michigan. I have met some great people during my three seasons here and have had a lot of fun. »

American goaltender Cayden Primeau also believes that the presence of many Quebec players at the Rocket encouraged everyone to surpass themselves.

“When Harvey-Pinard came back with the team at the end of the season and was introduced to the crowd, I thought the roof was going to blow,” Primeau said. It’s exciting to have these players because they want to do well for the fans and they rally everyone around us to do the same. »

The Rocket’s last three captains have been Quebecers, as the “C” has gone from Xavier Ouellet’s jersey to Alex Belzile’s and then Gabriel Bourque’s.

Each off-season brings its share of changes. Head coach Jean-Francois Houle noted that the 2022 playoffs helped the team make decisions about which veterans to keep at the Rocket. This time around, it’s the final segment of the season that will serve as the benchmark, when the team won eight of their last nine games to qualify for the North Section play-off series.

“You see the true color of the players when it really matters,” Houle said. Several players stood out like (Mitchell) Stephens, who played big hockey in the last month. Primeau also shone in the last three games, which we had to win. »

Houle said he wants Belzile a job with the Canadiens next fall, but he’d likely welcome him with open arms if he were to continue his career with the Rocket after recording 14 points in 31 games with the Habs this season. winter.

Bourque, who has played 413 career NHL games and is 32, has done well in relief as captain.

“He’s out there giving it his all every day, every game or practice,” Stephens said. His presence in the locker room is very important. He’s the type of guy who’s willing to push through a wall for anyone. »

Bourque admitted he would like to return to the Rocket, but needs to speak to his agent and team management first. He knows that the Canadian school club will be even younger next fall and will need good veterans to supervise them.

“They have to be good people,” Houle said of what they look for in their veterans. The quality of the person is very important, not only his qualities in hockey. We don’t just train players. The American League is also a school of life.

“All young people must be well surrounded. It is very important for the organization of the Canadian. »

And so much the better if they are surrounded by Quebec players who are happy to be there and share their passion with the fans.