Earning his place

Thursday, 24.10.2013 / 11:00 PM canadiens.com

MONTREAL – Michael Bournival fought long and hard to earn his place in the NHL ranks. Just seven games into his tenure with the Canadiens, he’s making a believer out of everyone and proving that he belongs.

Three days removed from learning that he would remain a Hab for the foreseeable future, the 21-year-old Shawinigan, QC native showcased the intensity and offensive creativity that has ultimately defined his play through the early part of the 2013-14 campaign. On Thursday night, Bournival registered the first multi-point game of his young career, racking up one goal and two points in the Canadiens’ 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the Bell Centre – a victory that snapped the Habs’ two-game losing skid.

Now riding a four-game points streak, the former Shawinigan Cataractes captain isn't showing any signs of slowing down. With five points during that span, Bournival is clearly growing increasingly comfortable in his new surroundings.

“My confidence is growing game by game. These are my first steps in the NHL and I’m learning from everyone around me,” mentioned Bournival, who logged a season-high 16:15 of ice time against Anaheim and finished the game with a plus-2 differential and three hits. “I’m still growing day by day. I’m always trying to improve. I’m still young and I have a lot to learn, whether it’s about respecting the system or when it comes to the maturity of my game.”

That relentlessness and desire to learn is something Bournival’s teammates have already taken notice of. Not only is the 2012 Memorial Cup champ reaping the benefits of his persistency, but linemates Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec are as well. The trio accounted for seven points (3G, 4A) against a Ducks squad that entered the contest with just two losses on the year and was among the elite teams in the Western conference at both ends of the rink.

“For a young kid, he’s got a lot of poise out there. It’s his work ethic that gets him into those open areas and gets him free. It puts him in the right spots and he’s making great plays,” praised captain Brian Gionta, who registered his third goal of the season and also picked up an assist to help the Habs up their record to 6-4-0 on the year, good for sixth place in the East. “He’s seeing the ice well, but he’s a kid that since camp has worked for his spot. He turned the heads of management and the coaches to earn his spot and he continues to do that.”

Gionta, who recently began his 12th NHL season, believes Bournival is going about things the right way as he tries to establish himself in a league boasting plenty of young talent. The Rochester, NY native is adamant that the Canadiens rookie is seeing positive results because of it.

“As a young kid, that’s what you want to do,” noted the 2002-03 Stanley Cup champ, whose club also got goals from Plekanec and Rene Bourque on Thursday night, in addition to a 31-save performance from Carey Price. “You want to try and stay consistent and keep that confidence. Since training camp, he’s worked extremely hard, earned his spot and he continues to impress and play well. He’s a big piece of this team.”

Head coach Michel Therrien, who first paired Bournival alongside Gionta and Plekanec back on Oct. 21, is quick to point out that the 2012 World Junior Championship bronze medalist’s success is a by-product of his multi-faceted skill-set, one that will be instrumental in helping him cement his place with the bleu-blanc-rouge down the road. It also doesn’t hurt to have two linemates with a combined two-plus decades of NHL experience to learn from and look to for advice and support.

“One thing for sure, Bournival brings a lot of speed. He skates very well. He competes and he’s taking advantage of playing with two good veteran players. He’s using the experience that he’s got on that line to make him successful,” stated Therrien. “The chemistry is there with those three guys. They made a lot of good things happen against the Ducks. It’s fun to watch a young player like Bournival progress as the year goes on, even if the season is still very young.”

Fortunately for Bournival, his support system extends well beyond the confines of the Bell Centre and the Canadiens’ locker room. In the aftermath of a performance the former third-round selection will likely chalk up as his most memorable to date, the left winger credited those closest to him for much of what he has been able to accomplish thus far.

“[My parents] supported me my entire life. I call them almost every day. They’re here for almost all of the games. It’s because Montreal isn’t that far from where my family lives and they can come watch me play often,” noted Bournival, who finished third in scoring for the Bulldogs last season, one point back of both Nathan Beaulieu and Gabriel Dumont. “They’ve followed me all my life and now I’ve made my dream a reality. They’re there to support me, to live it with me. They love it. They followed the Canadiens their entire life, so it’s something special for them and for me, too.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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