Behind the Bench
Islanders prospect Bruno Gervais gets a new perspective
by Francis Rizzo III
(April 27) There's a saying in life that goes "Those who can, do.
Those who can't, teach." In the language of sports, that translates
to "Those who can, play. Those who can't, coach." That's exactly what
happened to Islanders 2003 sixth-round draft choice Bruno Gervais,
who started his hockey year on the ice in Uniondale, New York, and
ended it behind the bench in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada.
After being drafted by the Islanders in the summer, Gervais hit Long
Island for rookie camp, meeting his fellow prospects and getting a
taste of the NHL. What was expected to be a short stay for the late-
round pick became a month-long introduction to professional hockey.
With high-level puck-handling skills, a calm, almost Kenny Jonsson-
like demeanor and a booming shot from the point, Gervais outlasted
the competitors in camp until, on his 19th birthday, he signed his
first NHL contract and was returned to juniors as the team's final
"I had such a great time over there," he said, during a recent visit
to Long Island. "I lived a dream, and those guys made it wonderful."
Dealing with the disappointment of having to leave the Island was
easier than it could have been for Gervais, as he was able to look
forward to solidifying his chances of being named to the Canadian
World Junior Championship Selection Camp. He was also busy captaining
his young junior team, the Acadie Bathurst Titan. After losing
several key players, including Boston Bruins rookie Patrice Bergeron,
the Titan were left in much the same position as the NHL's Pittsburgh
Penguins. It didn't make for an easy transition.
Gervais struggled in his return to the QMJHL, failing to match his
previous season's success, thanks to a team coping with the
inconsistency of youth and a bad batch of hockey sticks that made his
patented one-timer impossible.
"Our sticks, there was a problem with the glue and they were too
soft, and I couldn't get a shot off," he said, thinking back. "I'd
practice my one-timer, 50 times I'd take the shot after practice. But
I couldn't get it off. That's how I scored all my goals the year
Though the increasing defeats were getting him down, he worked
through it, displaying the leadership that earned him his
"It's my first time, since I was 7 years old, where I had to play on
a team where we play under .500," he said at the time. "I saw that as
a challenge, I knew my role and I had to deal with it to make sure
everybody on my team is at his best to make sure we have a
opportunity to win every night."
Despite a tough start to his juniors season, and perhaps partially
due to his excellent NHL camp, he was named to the December WJC
selection camp, and impressed the coaching staff enough that he was
expected to be selected to represent Canada in Finland. Then, a rut
in the ice claimed Gervais as its victim. His skate stuck, his knee
twisted and a simple hit was all it took to end his season. He left
camp and returned to Bathurst, unable to play, unable to skate.
As he began rehabilitation from knee surgery, playing video game
hockey was as close as he could come to the sport he's devoted his
life to. A thinking man's hockey player, Gervais has been known to
pause the game in order to watch the replays on the screen, tele-
strating the plays his team made, to the chagrin of his opponents.
"I'd be drawing on the screen," Gervais said, "and they'd say 'Come
on, just play the game!'"
Such an interest in the strategy of the game is nothing unusual for
the intelligent defender. As a child, he kept a binder loaded with
powerplay and penalty-killing schemes by his bed, as he studied the
best ways to win.
"Before I would go to sleep, I had this board, I would put it on my
lap," Gervais remembered. "I would go over the PP and the PK, to try
and make them work better."
Years later, not much has changed. During a visit in March to Long
Island, he caught two Islanders games, and spent most of the game in
the press box. While most players relegated to the rafters due to
injury or scratch status spend their time chatting with other players
or hockey people, Gervais remained locked on the game. Discussing
coverage responsibility and positioning with Islanders Iceworks
skating instructor Dan Marshall, Gervais broke down the breakdowns,
as defensemen allowed scoring chances.
"I like to focus on Oakie (Adrian Aucoin), because he's out there a
lot," said Gervais. "He's so smart the way he plays."
That's the kind of compliment that Gervais is likely to receive once
he begins his NHL career. Not content with watching from the
sidelines as he rehabbed his knee, Gervais wanted to be on the bench
with his teammates. But inactive players aren't allowed on the bench.
So the team did the next best thing, tearing up his player contract
and signing him to a coaching contract. Instead of skating beside
them, Assistant Coach Bruno Gervais stood behind his players now,
telling them things he noticed in the game.
"Now that I've been a coach, I know I'll listen a lot more to what my
coach says," he said. "I like coaching, but you'd have to offer me a
lot of money to coach instead of play."
With Bathurst's season over, Gervais has turned his attention to
preparing for next season, hoping for a repeat performance of last
year, with the exception of that last day. His mental game is
obviously in fine order, so now he just needs the physical half to
catch up. A successful recuperation and another year of experience
under his belt won't hurt his odds of making his dream come true.
"I can't wait 'til the day I pull on that [Islanders] jersey for an