It was a sullen William Trudeau who appeared in front of the microphones Wednesday evening in front of his locker, in the silent Rocket locker room.
Three quarters of an hour earlier, Laval led 3-2 against the Utica Comets. Trudeau found himself stuck behind the play and had to hold off his rival. The referee raised his arm to signal an infraction. Disappointed, Trudeau let off steam on the puck, which he sent to the other end of the ice before heading towards the penalty box.
“It’s just working for 60 minutes, in the right way,” said the Varennois. We can work, but we have to do it intelligently, be in the right places. The punishments… my punishment didn’t help at the start of the third. It’s valuable. »
Trudeau is obviously not the only one at fault in this third defeat in a row. He was also on fire in the first half of the match, author of some great offensive flashes, including one which caused a penalty for Michael Vukojevic. But the Rocket’s numerical advantage generated no rhythm, and indiscipline sank the team.
A Wednesday to forget for Trudeau and his teammates.
He pulled himself together
That said, if we exclude this ill-advised penalty, Trudeau is generally on the right track in this second half of the season. A progression that must be put into context.
All hopes were high for him at camp. The young defender had just had a first season beyond expectations in the American League.
Then at the rookie tournament in Buffalo, his outfit was such that it made Jean-François Houle say that Trudeau was “running the show”. Four months later, the exact meaning of the expression still remains uncertain; let’s assume it was positive.
Not all young people can adequately handle the comments that circulate about them. Trudeau, however, tries to take some and leave some.
You’re going to hear and see some things. It can be positive or negative, it’s a double-edged sword. You just don’t have to look too much, you just have to stay focused on your game.
Except that at this same camp, Houle also predicted a “rock’n’roll” start to the season until Christmas. He was right, and it wasn’t just the rookies arriving in the professional ranks and adjusting.
Trudeau was experiencing his own problems. On December 9, he finished a fifth game in a row with a record of -1. He then had 7 points in 21 games, with an output of -7. This was certainly better than that of -15 from his fellow defender Mattias Norlinder , but nevertheless below expectations for a prospect who had shown promising signs until then.
“It was more difficult at the beginning,” agreed Trudeau, after the morning training. Now it’s going really well. I just had to get my confidence back and keep it simple, not try too hard to join the attack. The game will come to you, be patient and make simple plays,” he added, as if repeating the advice that had been offered to him.
His plus and minus sheet (a popular topic on Wednesday, we’ll come back to it) was also affected. After said streak of 21 games, here he is at 9 points in 18 outings and a record of +7.
“Much more consistency,” Houle began to list. He plays much better, he is less erratic and is more attacking. He is calmer. I really like Trudeau’s game at the moment. This is one of the reasons why he returned to the plus. »
A shifting hierarchy
All this comes during a season where the blue line organization chart is in upheaval. The agent of chaos is becoming more and more known: Jayden Struble.
Struble climbed at breakneck speed. Logan Mailloux’s potential was known, but from there to him being second in scoring among first-year defensemen in the AHL, there is a step to take. On the other hand, Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris lost feathers.
This mobility, both upwards and downwards, is good news for Jean-François Houle.
“It’s a good thing to see guys can be here eight or 10 games and get called up. It gives hope to the rest of the defenders, they say to themselves that it can be them too, they can compare themselves to Jayden. Trudeau is not that far away. He’s heading in the right direction. »
We said it: the differential was a fashionable topic Wednesday morning. This is because colleague Stéphane Leroux asked the killer question: how to explain the presence, in the same team, of a defender at -22 and another at +11? And above all, how can we explain that the one at -22 retains his place in the formation?
The defender at -22 is Mattias Norlinder, a prospect overly expected by some observers, whose career in North America is not taking off. “It’s true that he’s often on the ice for the goals allowed,” Houle conceded. It’s part of team play. It’s not just his fault, there are five guys on the ice and a goalie. But he needs to look in the mirror too. He needs to play better. »
The one at +11 (+12 after Wednesday’s match) is Tobie Bisson. But the real intrigue behind the Norlinder case is that Nicolas Beaudin, unable to keep his place in the team, has directly requested that his contract be terminated and he will finish the season in Prague.
Every self-respecting wrestling fan of the 1950s and 1960s remembers Wladek “Killer” Kowalski, a terrifying-looking giant. The younger generation can now revere Riley “Killer” Kidney.
The nickname is obviously a tease. Kidney, 20, is listed at 5’11” and 181 lbs., and his early beard struggles to hide his teenage features. This old choice at the end of 2e CH tower (63e in 2021) is much more recognized for his offensive skills than for his rough side.
His nickname “Killer” was first used by assistant coach Kelly Buchberger. “He said it in one of our meetings, and JF loved it and everyone followed,” Kidney says, sounding amused. It’s a funny nickname. It was completely random. I’m not the biggest guy, obviously. He was joking, he said it and it just stuck. I like it, it’s funny. »
Kidney is obviously a source of entertaining nicknames. “At 16, in junior, it was Harry, because the coaches said I looked like Harry Potter! »
It was less of a laughing matter after the game, as the Rocket have now suffered three losses in a row, all three against division rivals. All this follows a 9-0-1 improvement in the previous 10 games, which allowed Laval to get back into the playoff race.
On Wednesday, the Rocket blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1. “When you don’t respect the game, that’s what happens. You can’t show up and play just one period. At 2-0, we thought it would be easy,” complained Houle, before adding more.
“McKay-Mysak-Cederqvist was our best trio. When your fourth line is your best, you may be in trouble. We are looking for other players, we would like to see them. » A harsh observation, but fair.