Stu Cowan: Leading by example — Canadiens’ Edmundson good fit for ‘C’

“He’s a great guy,” assistant coach Richardson says of veteran defenseman. “He has fun with the young guys, but he is also so professional.”

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There was a wonderful moment after the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019 and Joel Edmundson was doing a post-game interview with Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas.

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“What a feeling,” Edmundson said. “Just for our team to turn the season around. We were in the last place halfway through it and to be able to hoist the Stanley Cup now, what a feeling.”

Edmundson’s parents, Lois and Bob, then joined him on camera and Bob gave his son a big bear hug and screamed with joy.

“No words,” Bob said to explain the feeling. “Just unbelievable. Lots of hard work and it’s great to be here, that’s all I can say. Great team effort.”

Bob coached Joel and his older brother, Jesse, through the peewee level.

“There’s a lot of people that have gone behind us and supported us all the way and that’s what I think of,” Bob told Bukauskas before he was overcome with emotion and could no longer speak.

It was heartwarming to watch.

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Edmundson made it back to the Stanley Cup final last year during his first season with the Canadiens when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This season has been a very tough one, on and off the ice, for Edmundson. He missed the first 57 games while recovering from a back injury and his father passed away on Jan. 7 at age 61 after battling lung cancer.

“I think about him every day,” Edmundson said after playing his first game this season on March 12. “I was really hoping to get a goal for him tonight, but the next goal is definitely going to be for him. I know he’s up there looking down on me and he’s going to be with me the rest of my career and the rest of my life. I definitely wouldn’t be here without him.”

Edmundson scored a goal for his father in his ninth game this season.

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Canadiens GM Kent Hughes has said the Canadiens will have a new captain next season to replace Shea Weber and Edmundson has to be considered a candidate, along with Brendan Gallagher and Nick Suzuki. Hughes will probably be looking to trade Gallagher and the last five years of his six-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $6.5 million during the off-season and Suzuki, at age 22, might still be too young to have the added pressure of being captain along with an eight-year, US$63-million contract that kicks in next season.

So it wouldn’t be a shock if the 28-year-old Edmundson ends up wearing the “C.”

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson reacts after scoring during the second period against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on March 29, 2022.
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson reacts after scoring during the second period against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena on March 29, 2022. Photo by Sam Navarro /USA TODAY Sports

“He’s definitely a presence in our room,” head coach Martin St. Louis said about Edmundson before Thursday’s 7-4 win over the Devils in New Jersey. “He’s a leader. I think he’s helping with the young guys on and off the ice. He’s a guy that you need around with the amount of youth we have on our team.”

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Edmundson played with 22-year-old Alexander Romanov on the first defense pairing against the Devils, logging 20:39 of ice time and finishing plus-1.

Assistant coach Luke Richardson played 21 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman and really appreciates what Edmundson brings to the team.

“I’ve seen him play over the years just as an opposing team,” Richardson said after practice Wednesday in Brossard. “In St. Louis when they won the Cup, he had a great experience there and then he went to Carolina. I was blown away that Carolina let him go and we had a chance to get him and lock him up (with a four-year, US$14-million contract). I was really excited for him to come in here and I think he fit the mold of our team and the way we played last year with the big four on D and Carey (Price) back there (in goal). It kind of really solidified things in the back end and gave us a chance to do what we did last year.

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“He’s a great guy,” Richardson added. “He has fun with the young guys, but he is also so professional. When he came on the ice just for a few practices when he was hurt this year, he snaps that puck around. He’s got a presence out there. He’s yelling and talking to guys and pushing young guys, and he’s a true professional. Especially in professional sports to have that veteran leadership when we had a lot of guys down with either COVID or injuries this year it was huge to just even have him out there in a few practices.”

Richardson recalled talking with fellow assistant coach Trevor Letowski — who joined the Canadiens this season — following Edmundson’s first practice with the team after recovering from his back injury.

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“He wasn’t here last year, so he didn’t see (him),” Edmundson said. “He hasn’t seen Eddie all year this year and he goes: ‘Wow! What a difference just one guy and one practice makes.’ So that’s what he means to this team.”

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