After a stay in the organization of the Montreal Canadiens, Sylvain Lefebvre is enjoying himself in California. After all, how can you not like going to work every day in the blazing sun in summer clothes?
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“Maybe not in” flip flops “every day, it’s cool these days, he said to the author of these lines during a generous telephone interview. When I say that to my wife she reminds me that he does [-11 degrés] in Quebec.”
The former head coach of the Laval Rocket is entering his third season as an assistant with the Anaheim Ducks affiliate, the San Diego Gulls, who will play all of their games at the big club’s home this season. A little over an hour by car separates these two towns in Southern California.
“We’re settling as best we can in Anaheim. I have reached a stage in my life where there is only my wife and I, because the children are grown up. So they don’t have to follow us. We settle in for the season, then we come back home. I rent an apartment that is already furnished and I store my things for the year. ”
Three jewels to polish
At first glance, the Gulls are a well-rounded team. A mix of young talent and seasoned veterans, including a few alumni of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We have a lot of players drafted in the first or second rounds, said Lefebvre. We have guys who are going to play their first year in the pros like Benoit-Olivier Groulx. In defense, we have a lot of experience and in front of the net, Lukas Dostal comes from Europe. “
“Antoine Morand will be in his second year, then Simon Benoit and Alex Dostie in their fourth. It’s really a mix of veterans and young people. ”
Among the promising prospects are three jewels to be polished: Trevor Zegras, first-round pick in 2019, Jamie Drysdale, sixth overall pick at the most recent auction, and Jacob Perreault, also drafted by the Ducks last October with the 27th selection of the meeting. He is the son of ex-CH face-off specialist Yanic Perreault.
Lefebvre likes what he saw in these three young people at the Gulls camp. And if the junior leagues were to delay or outright cancel their activities due to the pandemic, the plan would “possibly” be to keep two, or even all three, for the season.
“Zegras, we saw him play at the World Junior Hockey Championship. He has hands. Drysdale is a small defenseman who plays well on both sides of the ice. Perreault is younger, but he has good speed and a good pitch. ”
“They will all have a learning period.”
Certainly, beautiful hopes will take their classes in 2020-2021. And although the professors who will supervise them in the American League rub their hands, the final decision will rest with the higher authorities.
“It’s the management of the Ducks who will decide. Right now they are starting their professional journey and the future will tell. Everything will depend on their progress on the physical level, but also psychological. “
Contrast with Laval
If Sylvain Lefebvre’s tenure as a teacher represents a rewarding challenge due to the talent that abounds in the San Diego Gulls incubator, there is a contrast to his previous job, as he did not always have the best roster. on hand so that the Montreal Canadiens’ school club aspire to top honors.
He didn’t direct Cole Caufield or Alex Romanov, for example.
Despite everything, the 53-year-old instructor never felt the urge to comment on his dismissal, pronounced in April 2018.
“The Canadian has been very good for me. Both as a player and as a coach. I had no experience as a coach. It was the organization that allowed me to win it and I am grateful. ”
Under the tutelage of Lefebvre (188-210-58), the Bulldogs, the Rocket and the ephemeral IceCaps missed the playoffs five times out of six and moved twice: from Hamilton to Laval, after a detour in Newfoundland and- Labrador. But the former defender has always faced the music, while facing criticism and taking the blame for the failures of the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge branch.
“My job was to work with the players I was given,” he explains. No complaints. Not to say “such and such cannot play”, but rather to help him improve. I didn’t want to comment and compare each of my players. ”
“My job and my mandate was to develop the young Canadiens players. In the years that I have been there, some have hardly played in the National League. On the other hand, a few did well and they helped the CH to reach the semi-finals (in 2014). The Canadian has missed the playoffs twice. ”
“The work I have accomplished, I am proud of it. Your role at this level is to help the big club win and get all the players ready. “
Development changes everything
This analysis offers what is most true in the trade. This is a reality that all American League instructors must contend with. Because no one knows when the phone will ring for a callback.
“Your place in the organization chart, when you understand it, your job is easy. But it’s not that easy from the outside if the club is not doing well. People who criticize don’t watch how many players have moved between the two leagues. One year, I lost my top 4 in defense and we were only a few points away from making the playoffs. ”
“You adjust one day at a time. When you play at night, you have practice in the morning to practice the power play, and then … a player gets called back. It changes everything. Joël Bouchard is experiencing the same thing in Laval, he continues. I did not calculate the average, but approximately 45 players passed between Laval and Montreal in six years. If the club asks you to develop certain players, you make decisions and you have to buy the philosophy of the big club. “
“You can’t think of yourself. Me, I wanted to win every game, but you make decisions for development, and that changes. ”
For example, sending a player to the ice in a stakes situation or pressure to perform. A crucial face-off in the defensive zone or an opportunity to score an important goal at the end of the game. In short, a situation where a youngster can help the team win.
“These players need experience and it takes them two or three times to pull off the game in question. We are talking about developing. We are talking about encouraging and offering tools.
“The player has a say. He can’t control everything except that he gets his chances to perform and show what he can do. “
No more the party than elsewhere
It was not only the performance of the Canadiens’ school club that made people talk when Sylvain Lefebvre was in charge.
In 2015-2016, the Cinderella year of John Scott, this giant format hockey player hinted after a brief stint in the organization that IceCaps players only had for frenzied nights in the bars of Saint-Jean de Newfoundland rather than heading for the playoffs.
Lefebvre, reluctant to comment on this old hearsay already drowned in glacier water, retorts that the veteran’s words have been amplified like the tolling of a bell.
“It was a little out of context, he wanted to clarify. He was coming from the All-Star Game. From there to saying that all the young people were at the party, that’s another thing. And we didn’t try to find out everything. ”
“We didn’t see him again, Scott, after that. He was called back to Montreal for a game and he left home. It does not mean that if so-and-so says it is so. But on the other hand, it’s at the professional level. He is no longer the junior. “