You really can come home again.
When the Montreal Canadiens take to the Bridgestone Arena ice Saturday night, a familiar face will be one of the defensemen wearing the bleu, blanc, et rouge of the visiting Original Six squad.
Francis Bouillon, who has served two tours with the Predators during his 14 season NHL career, returns to Nashville as a member of the team he broke into the league with back in 1999. What got him into the league has kept him there for these many years.
Standing 5’8”, on skates, maybe, Bouillon was undrafted and had to earn his way to the big leagues by playing and succeeding in the ECHL, IHL, and AHL before being given a shot with his hometown Canadiens.
In his fourth season with Montreal, the team put him on waivers, and he was claimed by the Predators. After three games in Nashville, he was re-claimed by the Canadiens on waivers and stayed with the team through the 2008-09 season. That season, he sustained a serious groin injury. That offseason, contract offers were not rolling in and there was a thought that his career may have been over, but Predators general manager David Poile called with an invitation to come to training camp on a tryout.
“It’s really special for me coming back here,” Bouillon said following Montreal’s Friday afternoon practice at Bridgestone. “I remember the year I was home and just struggling working out; I had the tough injury and David Poile called my agent and gave me a chance to get back in the NHL. I really appreciated it.”
Bouillon earned a contract that camp. He spent three seasons with the Predators, playing 191 regular season and an additional 10 playoff games. In 2011, he was Nashville’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, in part for his philanthropic efforts to give back to the impoverished Montreal neighborhood in which he grew up, enabling kids from lower income families the opportunity to play hockey regardless of their ability to pay.
“I spent three great years in Nashville,” he said. “The organization was really nice with me, really professional. I really liked the city too, so that’s why it is special for me to be back today.”
While with the Predators, Bouillon saw time with all three defensive pairings, often being matched with some of Nashville’s younger defensemen. Never very vocal, Bouillon mentored his younger teammates by showing them the value of hard work.
In his first season back with the Canadiens last season, Bouillon was occasionally paired with eventual Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban.
“I remember my role in Nashville, and I played pretty much the same role in Montreal last year, playing with a few young defensemen,” Bouillon said. “Those defensemen that come in the NHL, you want to help them to feel good with the team.”
As tough as Bouillon is on the ice, he is equally nice off of it.
This season has been tougher for him though. He has been in and out of the Montreal lineup. Being a healthy scratch is tough on any player, but for a 38-year-old defenseman, it is a sign that things are starting to come to an end.
“I am getting older right now, so my goal is to keep going because at the same time, I want to keep playing,” he said. “I am always being a positive guy. I want the best for my team and my teammates. It’s not easy, but I was prepared for that. We have to face the reality when those things happen. I’m a hockey player, so I want to play. The best thing I can do is just to get prepared. When they need me, I am going to be ready.”
And he better be ready Saturday night, as following Friday’s practice, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien said that Bouillon would be playing against the Predators, ending a stretch of five games where the blueliner was a healthy scratch.
It is a classy move by Therrien to give Bouillon the opportunity to face his former mates; a classy move that honors a classy player.