Canadiens' Joel Armia has overcome challenging start to the season

Big forward says working with Montreal’s mental-performance coach Jean-François Ménard has taught him not to let on-ice mistakes linger.

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At some point this summer, Joel Armia will probably reflect upon what might have been the most challenging, yet rewarding, season of his career.

But with 13 regular-season games remaining for the Canadiens, those thoughts can wait.

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“It’s way too early to ask me,” the 30-year-old Finnish winger said last week, before the team left on a five-game road trip that continues Sunday night (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM) at Seattle. Montreal lost 4-1 at Vancouver Thursday night and is on a four-game losing streak.

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“I still feel like, for some reason, I can’t think that far ahead,” Armia added. “I try to live day-by-day and do everything to be a better player.”

In 53 games this season, Armia has 11 goals and 16 points. Those totals, while modest, should be put into perspective on a team that struggles to score. Armia is one of only six Canadiens players with double digits in goals. He is also ensconced on the second line and one of the team’s top penalty-killers. Considering all Armia has overcome, he has proven to be dependable this season.

The season began with Armia being placed on waivers and assigned to AHL Laval. Recalled on Oct. 21, Armia was then a healthy scratch for four games before playing six straight, with only one goal to show for it. He was sent back to the Rocket on Nov. 12 for close to two weeks.

Although Armia hadn’t been in the minors since the 2015-16 season, he remained professional. Months later, however, he refused to speculate whether the two demotions served as a reality check. In eight games with Laval, he scored six goals and added three assists.

“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” he said. “Maybe that’s something I’ll think about after the season. Maybe there were some good things there? I don’t know. You get sent down. That’s not what you want to hear in any job. It’s kind of like a demotion. I don’t know if anyone would be happy at that point.”

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At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, the former first-round (16th overall) Buffalo draft choice in 2011 has never lived up to expectations. Armia played only one game with the Sabres before being traded to Winnipeg for Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. Following three seasons with the Jets, Armia was traded to Montreal and has been with the Canadiens since 2018.

After a strong playoff run in 2021, former GM Marc Bergevin signed him to a four-year, US$13.6-million contract that July. Armia is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

When the mood strikes Armia and he comes to play, he possesses speed, scoring ability and a wonderful shot. But the inconsistency in his game can be troubling and drive management crazy.

Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis, on an indefinite leave while dealing with a family issue, hinted as much earlier this season, stating: “You have to understand your window to being a professional athlete is so small, and your life after hockey’s going to be much longer. You don’t get do-overs, so stay in the moment and get after it.”

Armia also was guilty in the past of not only taking the game home with him, but returning to the bench with dark thoughts if he made a mistake. He has worked hard with Jean-François Ménard, a mental-performance coach the Canadiens hired in January 2023. The meetings are voluntary, the results of which are kept confidential. Ménard is renowned for his work with Canadian Olympians.

“I feel like I don’t hold onto some of the mistakes I make on the ice,” Armia said. “Everybody does that. That’s one thing that was my big weakness, hanging on to some of the little things that happen on the ice. You’re not going to have a perfect game every night. That’s one big thing I’ve learned this year.

“It was hard and took me so long (to realize). I can still do a better job at it.”

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