On the ice Antoine Roussel and Alex Burrows are two of the more notorious agitators in the NHL, but off the ice, Burrows’ mentorship of Roussel helped the current Dallas Stars forward land in the NHL.
Roussel doesn’t hesitate saying if not for Burrows’ guidance, he wouldn’t have made it far in the game.
Burrows, now with the Ottawa Senators, recalls the first time he saw Roussel, an invitee at Canucks training camp, in 2011.
“He was a crazy French guy that was ready to do anything to play in the NHL,” said Burrows. “I’ve been working out with him now for a number of years in the summer time and he’s one of the most intense guys I’ve seen in the gym.”
Born in Roubaix, France, Roussell moved with his family to Quebec at the age of 16. During the 2006/07 season, the forward caught on with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
After four seasons with Chicoutimi where he scored 59 goals and 139 points in 252 regular season games, Roussel made the jump to the pro game playing 42 games with the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins and another five games with the ECHL’s Reading Royals.
Following his first pro season, Roussel went unsigned prompting him to attend Canucks training camp. His performance at Vancouver’s camp led him to sign a contract with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, where he spent the 2011/12 season.
It was during his time at Canucks camp where he struck a friendship with Burrows, a fellow undrafted forward out of the QMJHL, who had to battle his way through the ECHL and AHL before landing with the Canucks during the 2005/06 season.
“I think Alex had a big influence on me and I cannot express my gratitude to him,” said Roussel, who has spent the past five seasons in Dallas.
For Burrows, seeing a fellow Frenchman battle to earn a contract brought back memories of his own situation.
“For sure totally, on and off the ice,” Burrows said of the similarities. “He’s got that mentality of whatever it takes to get to the NHL. A lot of people overlooked him or never thought he’d make it or never thought he’d have a chance.
“I remember his first camp, we had a lot of players that were in the same style as him in Vancouver back then. We had Ryper (Rick Rypien), (Darcy) Hordichuk, (Aaron) Volpatti, Tanner Glass - who were all filling that role so I think that’s why he got overlooked then, but Dallas did a good job scouting him and I think they’re really happy ever since.”
These days the two spend summers working out in the Quebec suburb of Boisbriand where Roussel also resides. Burrows, who spends his offseason in nearby Hudson, Quebec, has seen steady growth in Roussel’s game during his time in Dallas.
“You see his preparation in the summer pays off - he’s becoming a better and better player every year in the NHL,” Burrows said. “He’s got a bigger role year after year and he’s going to be a big player again this year for Dallas.”
Roussel’s successes in the NHL have also allowed him an opportunity to represent France internationally at five IIHF World Championships. In May, the 27-year-old donned his country’s colours as Paris played host to the men’s event.
The six-foot, 200-pound forward scored six goals and two assists in seven games for France at the tournament.
“That was awesome,” said Roussel. “That was a really fun experience to be in front of our fans. Usually they don’t see us playing much because we’re far away, even me, living in Canada in the summer, that was a good opportunity to meet me, hang out and just develop the sport and show them that we can play at a high level.”
It also gave Roussel an opportunity to spend time with family he doesn’t often see since moving to Canada over a decade ago.
“My grandparents came, they don’t see me play, they don’t travel, they’re too old,” he said. “But for the World Championship, it was awesome to have them be a part of that.”
Though Roussel says they fell shy of their goal of advancing to the quarter-finals, getting an opportunity to suit up with the veterans on the national team made it a memorable experience.
“We almost made it to the quarters and the fact that Cristobal Huet and our captain (Laurent Meunier) left on a good note, that was fun,” said Roussel.
When Roussel returns to Dallas following his summer in Quebec, he’ll have a new head coach to familiarize himself with as Ken Hitchcock takes over behind the Stars bench from Lindy Ruff.
“I heard he’s a good coach. We want good coaches around us, we want to be coached, we want to be winning,” Roussel said. “Sometimes when things don’t work one way, you’ve got to look another way, try different things. That’s what we did. Lindy did a great job for us, wish him the best of luck, but I think Ken is going to be great for us.”
Roussel will have some new teammates to get to know in Dallas as well as the Stars have acquired Ben Bishop, Marc Methot and Alexander Radulov, among others, this summer.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Roussel said of the additions. “It’s going to be a fun team to play for. I’m excited to still be around for that.”