Happy returns: Laval pregame

One of the most intriguing veteran defensemen in Sound Tigers history, as well as probably the most successful tryout player in Bridgeport history, are back in town today.

They’re both, as we got overexcited about last summer, back behind the other bench.

Great to catch up with Joel Bouchard and really meet Alex Burrows this morning. Their Laval Rocket pay their only visit tonight.

“You know, coming back to the rink here, yeah,” it sparks some memories, Bouchard said. “It was a very decisive time for me. I broke my collarbone at the beginning of the year. I was trying to get back to the NHL, and I missed like three months. All the staff was great, helping me come back. I played a few games, went back to the NHL, finished in the NHL.

“It was a journey to be here, but you know what, it was a good challenge for me as a player, and it definitely helped me as a coach, to understand how to come back from injury again, to try to push yourself back to your goal. The year was a great setup for me to go back to the Island.”

That year ended with Bouchard nominated for the Masterton Award. He played a few games here the next year on a conditioning stint, then 20 in Hamilton the year after that. His coaching career brought him through the QMJHL and now on to Laval, where one of his assistants finished up with 913 NHL games, 107 in the AHL, 134 in the ECHL, another 100 professional playoff games.

But it started, sort of, in Bridgeport.

“It was a long time ago, obviously, coming out of junior, my first-ever pro camp with the Islanders,” Burrows said. “I was far from being ready to be an NHLer, even a pro hockey player. Then I came here to Bridgeport, Steve Stirling was the head coach. I had a cup of coffee, pretty much, three days here, then I was off to the Coast.”

Stirling had kind words for him then, but said they didn’t have room at the inn. Burrows worked his way up from there.

Burrows sounded surprised to hear that.

“It was more like an invite, trying to fill out a jersey, I would think,” he said. “At that time, I thought, ‘if I can have a good game, a good shift out there.’ But a lot of the noise was about Raffi Torres, he’d just been drafted, he was the high-end prospect. Funny enough, a few years later, I played with Raffi. I could see Raffi was physically ready to play at this level, a force on the ice. It was a fun experience. It was an eye-opener that I still needed a lot of work to invest to become a player.”

Burrows has enjoyed the transition to coaching, he said, and he and Bouchard were both very complimentary of how hard their players have worked in a tough year.

“It’s been very, very surprising how the guys have battled, to be honest,” Bouchard said. “We have a young lineup, the guys we’ve played with, barely a veteran all year. To be where we are, we’re never satisfied not making the playoffs, but our division is very competitive, and our guys have been buying in, 100 percent. Some young guys have played a lot more than they thought. … They’ve been outstanding on the buy-in, what we’re trying to do. We’ve had 12, 13 rookies some nights. It’s been a great experience for us as a coaching staff and for the kids.”


Bridgeport this year rather than Bridgeport in 2006: The Sound Tigers called for the Black Aces this afternoon, bringing up Mitch Gillam, Mike Cornell, David Quenneville, Ryan Hitchcock and Yanick Turcotte from the Railers now that Worcester’s season is over. They’re not in tonight, any of them; only change from Saturday’s clincher appears to be Parker Wotherspoon in for Chris Casto.

Magic number for second: 3, and now it’s three straight up. Hershey’s overtime loss last night (keeping Lehigh Valley and the weird dream of a pulled goalie in regulation in a tie game alive) clinched the tiebreaker for Bridgeport, dropping the magic number a notch. A win tonight clinches either second or third and avoids Charlotte in the first round. (Though, exercise for the reader: Rather get Charlotte in the first round? Beat them three out of five instead of four out of seven?)

Meanwhile, of the six players who started for Hershey in Bridgeport’s last playoff win, April 18, 2010, two of them are playing tonight. They hugged across the red line at the start of warmup.

F: C.Bourque – Koivula – Ho-Sang
Bellows-Lorito-Bernier (A)
St. Denis-Kubiak-Wahlstrom
D: Aho-Burroughs
Vande Sompel-Hutton
Wotherspoon-Helgeson (A)
G: Gibson

F: Audette-Belzile (A)-Jevpalovs
D: Ouellet (C)-Brook
Alzner (A)-Fleury
G: McNiven

R: Schrader, T.Koharski. L: Colby, Galvin.

This should be the box.

Bridgeport scratches (believed healthy unless noted): Gillam, Casto, Cornell, Quenneville, Rathgeb, Carpenter, Eansor, Hitchcock, B.Holmstrom (veteran), Sislo (veteran/lower), apparently Stevens, Turcotte.

Scoreboard watching: Nothing tonight.

Michael Fornabaio