When you are a skilled forward who is used to providing the offense for your team, the adjustment to the WHL as a 16-year-old can be difficult. This is especially true when you are playing on a team with lots of older, skilled players getting the majority of the minutes.
That was the case for Tri-City Americans forward Connor Bouchard.
Two seasons ago, after putting up 53 points in 30 games with Okanagan Hockey Academy, Bouchard made the Americans out of camp.
That Americans team had guys like Michael Rasmussen, Morgan Geekie, Jordan Topping, and Nolan Yaremko providing a lot of the goals on the way to the Western Conference final.
Playing limited minutes, Bouchard was forced to change his style of game.
“I think when I was 16, I got to play with so many good players, which was awesome. It was so cool making that run, and I was playing on the fourth line all year, and sometimes it’s tough. You want to contribute, and as a fourth line guy, you have your role. As a young guy, it’s hard to maybe understand right away that, even though you play six to eight minutes a night, you still make a huge difference, right,” Bouchard recalled.
With a lot of their big name players moving onto the pro ranks, Bouchard got more ice time. Still, adversity stared him down. From October 19th to February 5th, he did not score a goal. For a player who is used to creating offense, that can be tough mentally.
“I think last year, I went months without a goal. Being a guy that wants to contribute, that’s tough. It was a tough couple months. This year, I think I just came in, and I’m having fun right now. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s helping me. I mean, the team’s also been playing unbelievable.”
That happy-go-lucky attitude has proven to be key for the Cochrane, Alberta, native. He is second on the team in scoring with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points in 19 games so far.
He is also playing on the team’s top line with Colorado Avalanche prospect Sasha Mutala and former Anaheim Ducks draftee Kyle Olson. The three have combined for 17 points over their last four games.
“It’s exciting to get to play with Kyle Olson and Sasha Mutala — two of the most skilled guys in the league. They can both move and make plays. It’s fun and it’s a great opportunity for me and I’m having a lot of fun playing with those guys.”
The team has won three of those four games, and Bouchard has had at least one point in each of them. He has seven points in that span.
The first three of those games were a trip through Bouchard’s home province.
“I’ve had success, but I think that starts with our team. In Alberta, we played three really strong games against three really good teams. And you know, even last game against Spokane, we played well. We’ve been playing really good hockey, which is good to see and we got to keep it going.”
A highlight of that trip was a game near his hometown against the Calgary Hitmen. Bouchard had lots of family and friends present.
He put on a show.
With 22 seconds left, Bouchard tied the game with Tri-City’s goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
Then, after overtime did not solve things, Bouchard put on a nifty move to net the shootout winner — a memorable night for sure for the Bouchard family.
“Pretty cool, especially with your family there. That’s a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
His play has his general manager, Bob Tory’s attention.
“Connor is having a strong year. He works extremely hard, and it is good to see him have some offensive success early in the season,” Tory said.
From being a fourth liner on a team as a rookie to being a top line guy two years later, Bouchard’s story is one of perseverance and work ethic. Sometimes, a good attitude and a lot of hard work go a long way.