Rocket's Bisson excited to take young players under his wing

Defenceman was coaxed back to Laval this season by head coach Jean-François Houle, who envisioned a mentorship role for the veteran.

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Almost every minor professional hockey player is trying to prove he deserves a shot in the NHL.

But for Laval Rocket defenceman Tobie Bisson, he was merely trying to establish he belonged in the AHL after spending the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons in the ECHL with Cincinnati.

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It meant leaving the organization to shake whatever label had been affixed to him.

“It was a bit like a gift and a curse for me,” the Rosemère native recently told the Montreal Gazette. “Coming from the ECHL, I was seen as the guy coming from (there). You’re stuck at the bottom. There’s an image and I think it takes time to shake that image. That’s kind of why I left last year. I wanted to get away from that image.

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“It takes time more than anything. I had to prove myself. I think, after three years, I’ve proven that I can play.”

Bisson wasn’t drafted after his junior career in the QMJHL and contemplated continuing his education at the University of Moncton. Instead, he changed course after being signed to a two-year, one-way AHL contract with Rochester. But the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder played only one game with the Americans, instead spending two seasons with the ECHL Cyclones. While he enjoyed his time in Cincinnati, Bisson yearned for more.

“You always expect to play high,” he said. “I got that one-way AHL deal for two years and was expecting to make the team and have my spot. You’re always good in junior. You kind of finish high, think you’re going to come in and ride that wave.”

Bisson then had two productive seasons with the Rocket, starting in 2020-21, only to again change course last season, signing a two-way NHL deal with Los Angeles but being assigned to the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Ontario, Calif.

“It was a question of having a good feeling, trying a new spot and going to California,” he explained. “It wasn’t a hard choice. There was no snow. Instead of playing Belleville … Syracuse … we played Vegas (Henderson), Arizona and San Diego. Beautiful spots.”

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The 27-year-old might have remained there, but was coaxed into returning to Laval by many of his former teammates and head coach Jean-François Houle, who obviously had an ulterior motive.

Houle named Bisson an assistant captain. He teamed him with rookie Logan Mailloux, then, as of last week, with David Reinbacher — both former Canadiens first-round draft choices — following the Austrian’s arrival from Europe.

“Tobie is a very calming person and a really good leader,” Houle said. “I think Reinbacher can learn a lot from him, not only as a person but how to handle yourself off the ice, with the hard schedule we have and game preparation.”

Bisson said returning home wasn’t easy, especially knowing he was signing a one-way AHL contract. He said he thought he had put the Rocket in his rear-view mirror, but was swayed by former teammates and Houle. He has eight goals and 24 points in 60 games along with 54 penalty minutes. He’s also a plus-16.

“It’s more of a reset year for me,” Bisson explained, adding he was excited about being thrust into a leadership role. “Playing in the ECHL and working my way up, it helped me learn so much through the years. I take all that experience and put it into the young guys. We have so many young kids that want to learn and love to grind. For me, it’s a pleasure to lead these guys, help them out.

“Logan, what he has been through this year and how he came out of this season; I’m so glad for him. Taking David under my wing now is what I like to do. It fires me up.”

The Rocket (30-25-8), in the midst of a five-game road trip, thrust itself back into the North Division playoff picture with three weekend victories in as many days. Laval, which occupies the fifth and final playoff spot in the division after winning seven of eight, concludes its trip Wednesday, at Utica.

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