Former Wild player Pierre-Marc Bouchard enjoys reunion in Montreal
MONTREAL — He climbed the steps of the Bell Centre’s lower bowl with that unmistakable hockey gait, a toque atop his bald head and a smile on his familiar face.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard has not watched a Wild game live since he left as a free agent in 2013, but the franchise’s 2002 first-round pick planned to be there Monday night when Minnesota played his hometown Canadiens.
He accepted equipment manager Tony DaCosta’s invitation to Sunday’s practice as a way to reconnect with the handful of players with whom Bouchard played during his 10-year career with the Wild.
“Some good (memories) about Minnesota and the Wild, so it’s good to be back and see some of the guys,” said Bouchard, who lives in suburban Montreal.
Drafted eighth overall in 2002, Bouchard debuted that season as an 18-year-old rookie and played 50 games, including five postseason matches during Minnesota’s unlikely run to the Western Conference finals.
He ranks among the Wild’s top five in games (565), goals (106), assists (241) and points (347). Bouchard also remains the only player in team history to amass 50 assists in a season. His Spin-O-Rama goals against Chicago in 2006 and Vancouver in 2011 are his staple highlights.
Bouchard played with current Wild players Zach Parise, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin.
In 2013, he signed with the Islanders, but only played only one season in New York before concussions drove him out of the NHL. Bouchard played two seasons in Switzerland before retiring at age 32 in 2016.
What does he miss most?
“Everything about the game,” Bouchard. “To be able to be around the guys, be competitive on the ice, score some goals, make some plays in front of 20,000 people, win some games. That’s what I miss.”
Retirement allows Bouchard to spend more time with his family and play shinny on a local outdoor rink. He has not been back to Minnesota since leaving as a free agent.
“Minnesota was a second home for me and my wife when we were there,” he said. “I was there for 10-plus years. We have some great (memories). I wish I could go back. Maybe come playoffs this spring.”
The Wild would welcome that.
Stalock not stale
Boudreau said before the game that backup goalie Alex Stalock would start Tuesday for the Wild in Boston, the second of a back-to-back. It would be his first start in more than a month, not counting the mop-up duties he pulled in relief of Devan Dubnyk in road losses to Chicago and Edmonton.
“I’ve gotten into games, which you really don’t want to do. You want your guy to be in the whole game,” Stalock said. “That’s a good way to get work (but) it’ll be good. I’m looking forward to it.”
Dubnyk was scheduled to start his 13th straight game Monday against the Canadiens. The challenge for Stalock to stay sharp is to work longer during practice and treat each one like it is a game.
Boudreau has said the Wild plan to play Stalock more as the workload increases following the Jan. 25-31 all-stark break and bye week.
Meanwhile, the start against the Bruins would be the sixth time Stalock has started the second of back-to-back games. He shrugs it off, insisting the challenge of playing on consecutive nights is not much of a disadvantage.
“Sometimes, especially on the road, it can work to your advantage,” he said. “You don’t have to worry so much about what’s going at home. You go and play the game. Maybe it makes it easier.”
Zach Parise is on the “Last Men In” ballot to round out representatives at the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25-26 in San Jose, Calif. Fans can vote on NHL.com/vote.
Entering play Monday, Parise led the Wild with 19 goals and was tied with Mikael Granlund with 38 points.