September 26, 2015

Francis Bouillon Retires

Francis Bouillon, an undersized and often under-appreciated defenceman who played 14 NHL seasons, has retired.

But one man who appreciated everything Bouillon brought to the ice was Michel Therrien, his long time coach.

The feeling was mutual.

“Michel did a lot for me,” said Bouillon. “I think he believed in me more than I believed in myself. He was always working with me after practice to make me better.”

Bouillon was a dependable five-foot-eight, 200-pound defenseman mostly with Montreal and two short stints with Nashville. He had 32 goals and 149 points in 776 NHL games.

Despite his size he was tough and intelligent about how to play the game at his size. His best asset was his superior skating ability that allowed him to be tenacious in one-on-one defending situations. His outstanding balance on his skates also enabled him to battle and protect the puck against men much bigger.

Though he was not a fantastic offensive producer he was known for quick, crisp outlet passes to start the transition offense or for carrying the puck out of his own zone frequently.

Therrien had Bouillon not only in the pros but also as a junior in Granby. With Boullion named as team captain the Granby Predateurs won the Memorial Cup as Canada's junior champions in 1996.

Bouillon was born in New York.  He had a Haitian father and French-Canadian mother. His family moved to Quebec City when he was three but retained his U.S. citizenship. He would play for Team USA at the 2003 IIHF World Championship.

Not that it looked promising that Bouillon would ever make a NHL or national team. Passed over in the NHL draft mostly because of his size, Bouillon played a year with Wheeling in the ECHL and another with the defunct Quebec Rafales in the IHL before signing with Montreal in 1998.

The Habs were probably hoping for a solid minor league defender when they signed him. He came highly regarded as Therrien was coaching their farm team - the Fredericton Canadiens of the American Hockey League.

Boullion would join the Canadiens on a full time basis in 1999-00, with Therrien promoted to his first stint as coach of the Canadiens a year later.

The Canadiens got a serviceable and dependable blue liner for 11 seasons. He was also very popular, winning the Jacques Beauchamp Molson Trophy in 2003-04 as the Canadiens' unsung hero and took the Jean Beliveau Award in 2006-07 for his work in the community.

He was not signed after the 2008-09 campaign but signed with Nashville, where he spent the next three seasons. He also played four games for the Preds in 2002-03 before being traded back to Montreal.

Bouillon returned to the Canadiens for two seasons in 2012, again with Therrien as coach.

Left unsigned after the 2013-14 campaign, he played one last season for Ambri-Piotti in the Swiss league.

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