2022 Exit Interview: Joel Bouchard

Exit Interviews: Joel Bouchard

May 6, 2022

By AJ Manderichio, Aaron Cooney and Andy Zilch/SanDiegoGulls.com

Friday marked the official close of the 2021-22 season for the San Diego Gulls, still stung from their Game 2 overtime loss to the Ontario Reign less than 24 hours ago.

The Gulls enjoyed a brief postseason run, falling in their best-of-three series against their Southern California rival. Many of the players spoke about carrying the elimination into the summer, using it as motivation in offseason workouts and training programs.

Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard expressed those same sentiments in his final media availability.

"Obviously, after we lost in overtime it’s always like, bittersweet," he said. "You’re proud of the guys. (They) worked really hard yesterday in the game against a tough team, but you would have liked to maybe go a little further in the playoffs.

It’s been a very good challenge with the players. I think a lot of players grew a lot. A lot of them had really good seasons. When you go coach in the American League, it’s not about yourself. It’s about the players. It’s about their progression. It’s about the lesson you give them and your experience. The good move that you made as a player; the bad move you made and your experience as a coach. So, I think it’s been exactly what it’s supposed to be: a growing season for a lot of players and even the coaching staff together. I’m really proud the way we peaked after Christmas through the adversity that we had. So, it’s been a very fun and interesting challenge."

Below is the remainder of Bouchard's media availabilty:

On managing the challenges of lineup that’s constantly changing:
Yeah, that’s the way it goes about being a coach in the AHL. You look at your board one day and you have the lines and you have the combination you like on power play, and all of the sudden the next day you’re losing three guys. This is the reality of hockey, cause you always have injuries, but I would say the AHL’s a little different than any other league, really, in the way that there’s a lot of movement of personnel. You do have your own injuries on top of it, especially in a COVID year, it was different. But it was the same thing with everybody. Every time you decide to be a head coach in the AHL you know those are going to be the realities you have to deal with and I don’t think you can let your emotion get in the way. Again, it’s not about you or about always the result, it’s about the process. You know, every time a guy gets called up that gives the opportunity to somebody else to shine and showcase himself, and maybe that will help them the rest of the season or his career. So, you have to take it for what it is. That’s not something that bothered me. I always said I’ll coach the right guys right in front of me. So, it’s no different for me than anybody else in the AHL. 

On what the team learned this season:
I think they learned that you go through adversity, you just get a little bit better here and there, and the results will be better. Meaning that it’s not always big movement of personnel, cause we’re not going to…sometimes it’s just everybody giving a little more and then all of the sudden, collectively, you can realize bigger thing. And if you look at the challenge we had against Ontario yesterday, you’re down early, and I think everything we’ve gained this year about stabilizing our game and staying in the moment and taking care of what’s ahead of us, which we did yesterday, got us a chance to be in the overtime. So, I think this is what the group learned the most. A lot of guys got a lot of ice time, a lot of opportunity and they went through a great time, but they went through failing too. I think everybody grew out of it and the group progressed and learned that sometimes you don’t need to have spectacular shift to be effective. I think you don’t need to have spectacular games to win. You just need to do things better. I think that’s what we learned this year. 

On how the coaching staff grew this season:
Well, it was the first time for me. It was a lot of new players. I’ve never really had that, because when I was in juniors I drafted those guys, so it was pretty easy for me knowing they always come back year after year. And when I was in Laval, I was pretty lucky because I had a handful of guys that I knew that I brought from either my junior days or I knew from before. So, I had already a core of guys that we had a relationship. And coming here, I barely knew anybody. Which was different. Which is a good challenge to try to build that relationship. To know what my expectations, but to understand to the player. So, that was the biggest difference and, if you ask me “what did you learn from this year?” I learned something different. To start with a new group. Obviously, last year was a team that we’d been together three years and we had a great season and it was easy. It didn’t need much. The guys knew exactly where we needed to be. But it wouldn’t be fair to the guys here to expect that at the beginning. When you talk about growth, it was a good moment for us to grow together this year and build something. And I think you guys saw the result after Christmas. 

On what impressed him most on this team this year:
I would say that, as a coach you always know if the guys are buying in or not. Because, you know, they’re not going to be perfect , but you can tell the way they go about some situation in the game. Are they doing what we’re asking them to or they’re not. And the guys did. You could tell they were doing it. Even last night was the biggest proof. Because, I tell you what, you’re down two nothing against a good team. You’re against the wall early in the game, I’ve been part of those, they can go sideways in a hurry. It could be a high score, especially because they have so much talent. I thought we regrouped really well. We put together a really good performance and the guys went back and relied on their instinct and what they learned all year to give ourselves a chance. And after the first period that’s what we said. I was proud of the guys. I said “we’re down two nothing, but settled in nicely into the game.” I thought the first period yesterday was better than the first period the first night. And we talked about going to overtime and bringing this game deep. The two goals in the second were the proof. (Ontario) had six shots on net, barely even scoring chances. So, I think that’s what I’m kinda seeing through the season is that kind of buy in from the guys on “hey, let’s do it. It’s demanding, but this is our best chance to perform and to grow.” And that’s what they did. 

On San Diego as a hockey city:
Well, first of all, the city is what it is, but it is impressive how much of a hockey community there is in San Diego. The fans are everywhere. They’re following us on the road and even when we come back from road trips. It’s so amazing and impressive. Obviously, coming from Canada, you expect a little bit of that following. We knew though, that San Diego is a good hockey market. But now we’ve witnessed it as a coaching staff and players. It’s pretty impressive that a city down south in California could be so positive and enthusiastic about hockey. People just like it everywhere I go. In conversation I talk about the Gulls and I’m the coach and you can see people light up. I have a very positive experience with hockey is good. 

On the Gulls players that made impacts with the Ducks:
I don’t know if I’m proud as much as I’m so happy for them. Their dream is not to play for the Gulls forever, right? I mean, their dream is to play for the Ducks. And for a lot of our guys it was their first game in the NHL or they get to play maybe more games than they expected this year. It’s just a great mood for me. I’m not upset when they get called up, I’m excited for them because I was that player. I was that guy that was working in the minors everyday and was waiting for that call. And when that call came you’re going into the league that you dreamed to play in. You’re not feeling you’re leaving your coaches or teammates behind. That would be silly. You grab your bag, your stick, and you go play in the big league. It’s like the dream of all the kids. So, for us, I think we’re living it through them. Although we lived it, I think now we’re too old and realize it’s not going to happen, so it’s fun to see the joy and the excitement of them going up. Although they’re leaving us, they’re leaving us for the experience and better league. So, it’s pretty positive. It’s a good moment. 

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