A Brand New Chouin
“A fortunate bounce there for Chouinard!”
“Chouinard was in the right place at the right time on that one.”
“Marc Chouinard benefits from a bit of puck luck to get his sixth goal of the season. The Wild now lead the Blues, 3-2!”
A radio or television announcer working the October 22 game between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues could have used any one of the aforementioned clichés. No one would have thought twice about it.
Chouinard, the Wild’s supposed defense-first forward, seemed to be lurking innocently near the side of the Blues’ net when a Marian Gaborik slap shot caromed off the backboards onto the stick of number 32. All Chouinard had to do was nudge the puck a couple feet past a recovering Patrick Lalime, and just like that, the Wild were ahead for good.
How hard can it be to just re-direct a puck into a yawning net with the goalie not even in position?
Well, there’s a little more to the story of one measly goal than is apparent just by watching Chouinard tuck away his second game-winning goal of the season.
Perhaps the goal could better have been described by the old adage made famous by John Wooden, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
That same bit of wisdom could also be used to sum up Marc Chouinard’s season, in which he is on pace to obliterate his career highs.
In three years with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Chouinard scored 10 goals and 13 assists in 159 games. In 45 games with the Wild during the 2003-2004 season, he netted 11 goals and 10 assists. Through 14 games this season, Chouinard tallied six goals and five assists. He has since cooled slightly after suffering a shoulder sprain on November 2 at Vancouver. He missed seven games, and now has one assist in the eight games since his return.
When asked for a reason behind his early offensive success, Chouinard points to two: Preparation and opportunity.
“This summer, when I came into camp, I was prepared physically and I was ready mentally,” said the native of Charlesbourg, Quebec. “I knew what to expect this time around, and I knew what the coaching staff was expecting of me. That makes a big difference.”
The coaching staff was expecting to see a player grow from a promising first season with the club. They were expecting to see more offense from one of the Wild’s best two-way players and defensive specialists.
When Chouinard arrived in Minnesota in the fall of 2003, he was pegged as a defensive center. He was a guy who could win face-offs, could block the opponent’s passing lanes with his long reach, and could shadow opposing snipers.
Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire has never taken a player in and pigeonholed him into a purely “offensive” role, or a purely “defensive” role. As in Chouinard’s case, Lemaire gives him the opportunity to use his strengths and puts him in a position to succeed.
“When I came here, it was new ‘everything.’ New system, new coaches, new teammates, and a new city. We worked every day on positioning and I really learned a lot.”
Chouinard says he is now comfortable with what Lemaire wants out of him, and thankful for the opportunity to produce. He now feels he has the go-ahead to do even more than what was asked of him in three seasons with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
“I’m definitely comfortable. I would never say that Anaheim had a bad system, but some systems suit different playersbetter than others,” he said. “Here, it’s all about body positioning and working at the right times. With Jacques’ system, I put my body in a position where I can cover as much ice as possible. But I have to read plays and anticipate. Jacques is all about that.”
Chouinard probably had the best 21-point season in NHL history in 2003-2004, considering the circumstances. In the middle of the season, he missed 32 games with a fractured jaw, followed by a viral infection. A month after his return that January, he sprained his thumb in a fight with Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo, forcing him to miss four games.
Chouinard rebounded from the injuries. His 21 points were a career high, and he finished the season with a four-game scoring streak that included three goals and three assists.
“I got hurt, but it was a great season, and I wanted to keep that going.”
It was tough to keep it going when there was not hockey to be played. So, when the NHL officially cancelled the 2004-2005 season, he made his first-ever trip to Europe to play with Frisk-Asker IF in Norway. It was in the heart of Scandinavia that Chouinard was counted on to be the go-to guy, harkening back to his days as a junior player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In just 16 regular season games, he piled up nine goals and eight assists. In three playoff games, he netted five goals and two assists. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in, that’s offensive production.
“It’s a completely different situation for hockey, and for a way of life. I went over there aware that I would have to take everything with a grain of salt. You don’t get treated the same way and the attendance was definitely not the same. But there was some time when I could work on certain parts of my game. I got to see new parts of the world. And I got to play hockey. A year off would have been a long time for me.”
“In Norway, they expected me to play offensively,” explained Chouinard. “So I went back to the basics of how I used to play. I see myself now as a player who has the ability to create offensively, and I know that Jacques will give me enough rope, because he knows that I’ll pay attention to the defensive game as well.”
To recap: Chouinard came to camp in great shape, was confident with his offensive skills after tearing it up in Norway, and he’s been given the opportunity to learn and grow under Lemaire’s system. Are those the only reason for the suddenly gaudy statistics?
“It certainly helps to play with guys like Rolston, Dupuis, Daigle and Gaborik,” admitted Chouinard. “Those guys are so talented, and so fast. I know that if I take a few risks offensively, those guys are there to back me up.”