Bouchard small in size, but big on ice
By Michael McHugh
He might be one of the smaller guys in the sense of physical stature, but Houston Aeros forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard is larger than life itself when on the ice.
Hes worked his whole life to get where he is today, and with it came the ups and downs.
My biggest challenge had been ever since I was young that everybody said that Im too small to go in to the NHL. I was going to prove them wrong. I did it and I still want to prove that I can do well in the NHL, said Bouchard.
Prove he could play in the NHL he did.
Bouchard left home at age 16 to play in juniors. He Minnesotas first-round choice, No. 8 overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He spent two seasons in Chicoutimi, and finished second in rookie scoring. In 2001-02, he was the top scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, 10 points ahead of his nearest rival, and he was named the leagues Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000-01. He was also the QMJHL Top Offensive Player and was named to the leagues first All-Star Team and chosen as Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year in his second season.
He made his NHL debut with the Wild in 2002-03, remembering his first game like it was yesterday. It was a big crowd and it was pretty special, he said. It has always been a dream to go there and play so it was pretty cool. I got to play with great players like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
Coming to the NHL straight from juniors, Bouchard said his biggest adjustment was the difficulty in the level of play and the speed of the game. Its a different style of play, he said. The guys are stronger and the skating and physical play is different than juniors, which is normal.
He was with the Wild for two years, playing roughly every two games, and learning the ropes of the NHL.
Minnesota Wild assistant general manager Tom Lynn had this take on his situation there: Bouchard is a very gifted offensive player. He had tremendous offensive production in juniors when he was drafted by the Wild. We brought him in the NHL right away and he was really there to learn the NHL game. Consequently, he wasnt put in many situations to have success offensively.
With the NHL lockout in full swing, Bouchard came to Houston to work on his skills.
The benefit of this year for Pierre-Marc after being in the NHL is he is once again put in to all the offensive situations for a team and be able to develop his offensive skills at the pro game level, something he wasnt able to do last year in the NHL, added Lynn. Its been a real opportunity for him, and he as responded. I think its going to help him very much in his NHL career.
Injuries plagued him early in the season, and he tried to keep his head up. He was bored watching from the sidelines, and stayed in shape by riding the bike, working out and skating with the team. He was determined to fight his way back.
Pierre-Marc is so many things, said Aeros Coach Todd McLellan. Hes fun to watch, hes very skilled, crafty, and what I appreciated about him more than anything is his commitment to the team the last three or four months.
The NHL lockout has been a tough situation for all the young players. For Bouchard, having to go back to the minors because of something that was out of his control was frustrating, but he embraced the opportunity to work on his skills in Houston and has been a big part of the team.
Andrew Ferraro, who covers the Aeros for the Houston Chronicle, added, Obviously the lockout is a bad thing for hockey overall, but I think its been good in some ways for the AHL because guys like Bouchard play in Houston. Houston fans and media like myself get to see some talent that we ordinarily wouldnt get to see unless he were down here. Its exciting to have him here.
Riding his time out with the Aeros has been easier for Bouchard because of good friend and roommate Stephane Veilleux, a teammate he admires and respects. Hes a guy that always works, and gives everything hes got for the team, he said of Veilleux.
Considering his NHL experience, Bouchard is not one to brag on himself. He is very polite, quiet, proud, and a pleasure to interview. He will acknowledge when he has a good night, but wont talk trash on others. He is a talented player with a lot of finesse and has a passion for the game.
Hes a really good person and Im having a lot of fun with him, said Veilleux. He is a shy person, but once you know him hell talk to you a lot. I like to give him a hard time, hes a good guy. Intense, but funny at the same time.
As one can imagine, pranks and practical jokes are a big part of the team locker room and Bouchard shows he has a sense of humor, i.e. sneaking up and putting sour cream and butter all over Brent Burns shoe at dinner. He also admits to putting shaving cream in the towels of teammates, so when they get out of the shower, unaware of what awaits them, they get a face full of the cream. He has a wicked grin on his face as he shares this story. Hard to believe from a guy everyone thinks is so shy!
Later this month, Bouchard will celebrate his 21st birthday.
With the regular season almost over, his thoughts are on gearing up for the playoff run. While they really cant control what the other teams are doing, they are focusing on the game and what they need to do. Its a pretty good race right now, he said.
And while he may be one of the smaller guys on the team, he skates with a big heart and makes a huge contribution to his team.
Currently he has 12 goals, 40 assists and leads the team with 52 points.
His plans for next year include returning to the NHL and the Wild. He will definitely miss the Houston weather, the teammates he has had the privilege of playing with this year, and the dedicated fans that come out to Toyota Center to watch them play.
And how has the ride been so far? Its been great. We have a good bunch of guys and we have a good team and its been fun.
JUST FOR FUN:
MM: What will you do in the off season?
PMB: Ill hang out with my friends and family, play some golf and take in some sun.
MM: If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be?
PMB: Wayne Gretzky, he was my idol, and Id like to meet him.
MM: One thing you dont travel without is
PMB: My I-Pod. I listen to music on the plane or at the hotel.
MM: Who influenced you most in life?
PMB: My parents. They have always been there to help me out and to give me some good advice.
Lightning Round Questions:
PS2 or X-Box?
Leno or Letterman?
Sand or Snow?
Jumbo Jack or Big Mac?
Cadillac or Pickup Truck?
Dogs or Cats?
Thirteen-year-old Michael McHugh, a student at Friendswood Junior High, writes the Junior Reporter Corner for the Pearland/Friendswood Reporter News. He has a regular feature on www.aeros.com.