04/03/2014 10:00 AM
Photo by Dominique B. Gagné/QMJHL
Pierre-Marc Bouchard has a unique perspective on hockey on and off the ice
Rockford, Ill. – In the end, it is still a business. Countless players, executives and agents have said this over the years when it comes to the tough decisions that have to be made in the business of hockey. There are many ex-players that have made the transition to the front office after their playing days, but few have done so before joining the ranks of the retired.
After spending his entire professional career with the Minnesota Wild organization, spanning 11 seasons, Pierre-Marc Bouchard found himself as a first-time free agent at the age of 29 last off-season.
“It is a fun experience, a few teams call and express interest and you get to pick where you want to go,” said Bouchard of his free agency experience. “It was kind of fun.”
The Sherbrooke, Quebec native spent the first 48 games this season with the New York Islanders organization, showing 10g-16a-26pts between New York and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL.
On Feb. 6, Bouchard was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks along with Peter Regin for a fourth round selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Bouchard immediately reported to Rockford.
“I got a call from the General Manager of the Islanders (Garth Snow) and told me I was traded to the Blackhawks and that I had to report to Rockford,” said Bouchard.
Since donning the IceHogs sweater for the first time on Feb. 8, a three assist effort against the Iowa Wild, Bouchard has become an offensive staple for Rockford. Bouchard currently has 2g-17a-19pts in 18 games with the IceHogs.
“I’m trying to fit as well as I can,” said Bouchard of his transition to Rockford. “I’m trying to play my best hockey and play with some confidence. I want to help the team get into the playoffs and get some wins. Ever since I got here, it has been easy to adjust with such a great group of guys. Everyone has been helping me out to get adjusted.”
The IceHogs Head Coach, Ted Dent, has certainly taken notice of Bouchard’s efforts on and off the ice for Rockford.
“He’s done well,” said Coach Dent. “He’s provided some offense for us. Obviously he’s played at the NHL level. He sees the ice well. Has a lot of poise with the puck and the guys that are playing with him always get nice chances on that particular night. He is a calming influence for our room and our guys. He’s played at the highest level; he can help the younger guys in that respect as well.”
The veteran center has helped lead his new teammates with a quiet confidence and level-headed support for the younger skaters. Bouchard has been particularly helpful for some of the younger French-Canadian players, including young defenseman Mathieu Brisebois, also acquired via trade.
“Bouchard has been a really positive influence on me,” Brisebois said of Bouchard. “It can get hard both on and off the ice at times. Sometimes you think you don’t have the trust of the coach. He has always told us not to worry about it and just work hard.”
Bouchard recognizes his value to the IceHogs as a veteran leader and playmaker, but the centerman still has one goal in mind above all else, getting back to the NHL.
“My main goal is to get back into the NHL,” said Bouchard. “I’ll try to finish this year strong and get some rest in the off-season. Then, come July, hopefully a few options will open up.”
Heading back into free agency, Bouchard has a unique viewpoint on the situation. Ever since 2012, the President and Co-Owner of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has been an alumnus of the team, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
“Well, first of all, that is the juniors team I played for,” Bouchard said when talking about why he became President of the Saguenénes. “I have some fond memories there and some friends. My wife is from Chicoutimi, about four hours north of Montreal. Three other guys asked if I would like to jump in and I thought it would be a good idea. Experience wise, I know what it is to be a player, but I wanted to see what it would be like to be on the marketing side. As well as dealing with the coaches, General Manager and trades. It was something that I was looking forward to.”
The balancing act involved with being a player and executive requires Bouchard to make some sacrifices in his role as President and Co-Owner. Bouchard’s future as a hockey player comes first, but that doesn’t mean he is just a figurehead for Chicoutimi either.
“With my situation it is harder to be really involved with the hockey operations,” said Bouchard. “But, I try to stay in touch with my business partner, the General Manager and the coaches once in awhile. Around the trade deadline I was involved. I don’t have final say, but I was on the phone with the General Manager (Marc Fortier) to see what the plan was.”
“Last summer we hosted the draft,” Bouchard said. “It was fun to be a part of and I was able to sit at the table to see what the scouts and General Manager were talking about. We were able to greet the players when they were coming down. I’m usually there for the first week of training camp as well. I try to go on the ice with the team and help with practices.”
No matter how much you have seen both sides of the business of hockey, some things never become easy.
“Seeing both sides can help you understand where the management is coming from. But, at the same time, I don’t think anything can prepare you for a trade or becoming a free agent.”