Habs' small D-man Francis Bouillon playing big | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaHabs' small D-man Francis Bouillon playing big

Posted: Friday, May 2, 2014 | 04:08 PM

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Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon has battled long odds for much of his professional hockey career. That perseverance has paid off at various times, including Thursday night when Bouillon scored to give his team a 3-2 lead in an eventual 4-3 double-overtime victory against Boston. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon has battled long odds for much of his professional hockey career. That perseverance has paid off at various times, including Thursday night when Bouillon scored to give his team a 3-2 lead in an eventual 4-3 double-overtime victory against Boston. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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Life as a small defenceman in the land of NHL giants hasn't been easy for 38-year-old Montreal Canadien Francis Bouillon, but he's made the best of a lengthy pro career despite being undrafted.

Unflappable goalkeeper Carey Price and his buddy on the blue-line, P.K. Subban, rightly received all the praise following the Montreal Canadiens' important series-opening, double-overtime victory in Boston on Thursday.

But flying under the radar, which is easy when you stand five-foot-eight in the land of six-foot-nine Zdeno Chara and other Bruins behemoths, was 38-year-old Habs defenceman Francis Bouillon.

Just when it looked like the Bruins were dominating and poised to snatch a come-from-behind win with goals 48 seconds apart early in the third period, Bouillon put his club back in front.

The Bruins had taken over the game. Boston's Milan Lucic whiffed with an open net in front of him. Moments later, Bouillon had scored his first Stanley Cup playoff goal since April 19, 2008 and only the third of his underdog career. All of sudden, instead of being down a goal, the Canadiens were ahead and had life.

It was another highlight in Bouillon's career, a career that because of his small stature he's had to scratch and claw for everything he's earned. Yet, here he is with 1,043 professional regular-season and playoff games to his credit despite the fact he was never drafted.

"I've always had to do that on every team I've been on, come in through the back door and then prove I belong," he said. "It wasn't easy but I kept working hard and my chance always came."

Michel Therrien called Bouillon's career a success story earlier this season and the Canadiens head coach knows all about the New York City-born, Quebec City-raised defenceman. Their relationship dates back to their days in junior two decades ago. Bouillon's important goal was a reward for the faith that Therrien always has exhibited in Bouillon.

Therrien was Bouillon's coach in Laval, Que. In their second year together, the Titan played host to the Memorial Cup tournament and lost in the 1995 final to the Kamloops Blazers. The next year the franchise relocated in Granby, Que. Therrien and his key overage defenceman together celebrated the coveted junior championship in Peterborough, Ont.

Bouillon's impressive season in Granby earned him a tryout with the Edmonton Oilers, but during training camp he was demoted to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League and before the season started all the way down to the depths of the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers.

Familiar voice

But after the 1996-97 season with Wheeling, and the following year with his hometown Quebec Rafales of the International Hockey League, Bouillon received a call from a familiar voice. It was Therrien, now the Habs coach with the AHL Fredericton Canadiens.

Bouillon continued to prove himself and the following season he found a regular spot early in the 1999-00 season with Montreal because of some injuries. Even when those injured players healed and were ready to return, then-Canadiens head coach Alain Vigneault kept Bouillon in the lineup. The diminutive defenceman had won over another coach.

Bouillon remained with the Canadiens until he was cut loose after the 2008-09 season. Was he done? No, he found new life with the Nashville Predators for three seasons, only to return to the Canadiens when Therrien made his comeback with the Habs last year.

Back in a Canadiens sweater on opening night, the Habs faithful showered the old/new Canadiens defenceman with a rousing ovation. It was an emotional moment.

It hasn't been all rosy for Bouillon this season. He was a healthy scratch 28 times, including a stretch of 17 games in a row. But the addition of veteran defenceman Mike Weaver at the trade deadline has given Bouillon's career another lift. The two have been reliable in that third pairing for Montreal.

The comeback against the Ottawa Senators six weeks ago also helped Bouillon's cause, when Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and David Desharnais scored in the final three minutes 22 seconds to send the game into overtime. Bouillon capped the evening with the overtime winner, his first goal in more than a calendar year.

The Habs have gone 14-3-1, including that comeback victory, and the five-game win streak they have authored to start the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs with the little engine that could named Bouillon playing his small, but big role.

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