Canadiens prospect Nathan Beaulieu and Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre during practice at the Bell Centre Thursday in preparation for Friday night’s game against the Syracuse Crunch.
Photograph by: John Kenney, montreal gazette
The Hamilton Bulldogs are expecting close to 15,000 fans at the Bell Centre Friday night for their game against the Syracuse Crunch and that includes a large contingent from the Eastern Townships to support rookie defenceman Antoine Corbin.
“There’ll be 50 or 60 family and friends, people who haven’t been able to see me play for eight years,” said the 20-year-old Corbin.
Corbin was born in Granby and started playing hockey in nearby Waterloo. But his hockey career took a left turn when he was 13. His parents — his dad is a physician and his mom is a pharmacist — wanted to help Corbin improve his English. The result was that he and his mother took up residence in Saskatchewan where he played midget hockey. He went on to play junior hockey in Kelowna and Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League. He started this season as an overage junior in Prince Albert and that’s when Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ director of amateur scouting, came calling.
“To tell you the truth, a lot of our scouts didn’t like him,” Timmins said. The opinion seemed to be universal because Corbin was passed over twice in the NHL draft.
“The knock against him was that he didn’t make good decisions in his own end, didn’t react quick enough,” Timmins said. “But I thought he had potential. He skates well for a big man and he has a cannon for a shot. Our plan was to invite him to our rookie camp, but that was cancelled because of the lockout and so we offered him a tryout at the Bulldogs camp.
On a roster filled with players who have had a taste of the NHL and blue-chip prospects, Corbin is an outlier. But a spot opened up when prospect Morgan Ellis was injured in training camp and Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre liked what he saw from Corbin.
“We actually had three defencemen in camp on tryouts who looked pretty good with Corbin, Étienne Boutet and Kevin Gagné,” Lefevre said. “Corbin has some rough spots, but we think he has potential.”
When the Bulldogs trimmed their roster prior to the start of the season, the club announced that Corbin was being returned to Prince Albert. Two hours later, the team announced that he had signed an AHL contract.
“I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was so happy when they kept me,” Corbin said.
He was in the lineup on opening night and stayed there after Ellis was cleared to play. He has dressed for seven of Hamilton’s nine games and received a vote on confidence after Greg Pateryn broke his elbow. The Bulldogs recalled Joe Stejskal from Wheeling, but Lefebvre decided to use Corbin for the two games against Syracuse.
Corbin said he’s aware that he has to work on his defence, but he’s glad he has been given an opportunity.
“I’ve only had two bad games, but I’m working on my consistency and I’m getting used to not being the biggest guy on the ice,” said the 6-foot-3, 206-pounder.
The game will give hockey-starved Montreal fans a chance to renew acquaintances with Aaron Palushaj, Blake Geoffrion, Frédéric St-Denis and Michael Blunden, all of whom logged significant time with the Canadiens last season.
There’s also a tantalizing glimpse of the future. There are first-rounders Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu on defence along with late-bloomer Brendon Nash.
And Brendan Gallagher, the sensation from the Canadiens’ camp last year, has found some chemistry with Patrick Holland and Shawinigan’s Michael Bournival.
“I know Galley from playing out west and we get along pretty well, and it’s been easy playing with Bournival because he works so hard out there,” Holland said.
The Bulldogs have a 4-3-2 record, but Lefebvre said the won-lost record wasn’t his principal concern.
“My No. 1 responsibility is to develop players for the Montreal Canadiens,” he said Thursday after running his team through a practice at the Bell Centre. He noted that the Canadiens have put together a strong development team, with Ron Wilson, Donald Dufresne and Vincent Riendeau serving as assistant coaches, with regular input from Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois.
“We want to give them all the help they need on and off the ice,” Lefebvre said. “Of course, part of that development is teaching them to be winners.”
To hear what Pat Hickey has to say about Brendan Gallagher, watch John Kenney’s video at montrealgazette.com/videos
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