MONTREAL – For the Bulldogs players in town experiencing the Canadiens’ playoff run in person, there’s no better place to learn about postseason hockey.
When Hamilton’s season came to a close on April 19, the majority of Sylvain Lefebvre’s troops packed up their stalls at the FirstOntario Center and headed home for the offseason. For 10 lucky players, it wasn’t time to break out the golf clubs just yet. Instead, the big club came calling, inviting them to train with the team while getting a firsthand taste of the playoffs in Montreal.
This time last year, Michael Bournival was part of that crew of Bulldogs soaking it all in as a member of the “Black Aces”, learning how hockey changes when the regular season ends. When the Habs kicked off the first round of the 2014 Playoffs this spring, Bournival had moved from his perch in the pressbox to a front row seat against the Lightning. Some 21-year-old rookies would be nervous ahead of their playoff debut, but Bournival’s springtime training session a year prior helped prepare him for the big reveal.
“In every league, when the playoffs arrive the games crank up a notch. It’s a lot faster and a lot more physical,” confirmed Bournival, who played his first pro season in 2012-13 with the Bulldogs before joining the Habs on a full-time basis this year. “I saw it last year when I was here with the other Bulldogs guys. I saw how things went on the ice and I was paying close attention. This year, I was ready from the start and I knew how to prepare before each game.”
Some of his former AHL teammates are hoping to follow in Bournival’s footsteps by using their current opportunity as a stepping stone to postseason success next year. One future Hab in particular is picking up quickly on the distinction between NHL hockey in October vs. April.
“It’s so different watching playoff hockey in person than on TV,” described Nathan Beaulieu, who picked up two points in 17 regular season games with the Canadiens this year. “Being in Montreal for the first round, you pick up so many things just by watching from the pressbox. You realize how big the games are, and not just on the ice. You feel the playoff atmosphere in the building and around the city, too.
“I was here last year and the atmosphere is different now because of the huge win in the first round,” he continued, having also been in the house for the first round series against the Senators in 2013, his first year in the professional ranks. “It’s fun. There’s a buzz around the city and it just makes you want to be out there on the ice that much more.”
Despite training on one ice sheet over at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, the Bulldogs and Canadiens usually don’t have any contact with each other during the postseason. That is, until this year, when the Habs’ brass unveiled a new component to the team’s playoff readiness plan. To help the players stay sharp during a long break after their first round sweep, the Canadiens played an intrasquad game at the Bell Centre on Monday night, incorporating the Black Aces into the mix to help push the pace to postseason levels.
“You can learn a lot just by being here. You really get a feeling for what playoff hockey is all about. There’s a huge difference in the intensity level, the speed, everything. I’m working hard to be ready. Just being here is cool,” admitted Greg Pateryn, who won Defenseman of the Year honors with the ‘Dogs after racking up 15 goals and 34 points in 67 games. “It’s also good to know they could call on you at any time over the next few weeks at some point or another. It’s good for the confidence. Everyone who’s here deserves to be here.”
More accustomed to playing big minutes and starring for every team they’ve been a part of since their minor hockey days, Beaulieu and Pateryn are adjusting to their new roles as spectators. They realize they have to wait their turn, and they’re making sure to use the time to not just watch the games, but to learn from them, too.
“You’re not thinking about watching the games any differently, but subconsciously, you do,” explained Pateryn, who wasn’t called up from Hamilton this year, but played three games in Montreal in 2012-13. “You constantly notice differences in the play even when you’re not actively looking for them.”
Beaulieu has also been picking up on the subtle changes that come with springtime hockey. Having spent his share of time as a member of the team’s entourage at different points this year, the Strathroy, ON native has grown from the ups and downs of his sophomore professional campaign. Getting to watch plays unfold with a critical eye has helped him learn from the mistakes of others so he can be sure to avoid making them himself when he finally gets the call.
“Every shift matters. When you look at the Montreal-Tampa series, one player gets a penalty in the last two minutes of the game and their season ends on the next shift,” stressed Beaulieu. “You look at little things like that and that’s when you realize the importance of every shift. You see that every second you’re on the ice is important.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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