New York Islanders defensive prospect Bruno Gervais is enjoying a solid season with the organization’s AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Following up a successful rookie season with the Tigers last year, the Longueil, Quebec native is currently Bridgeport’s top scoring defenseman with 27 points, and the team’s second leading point-getter behind only leading scorer Rob Collins. His 13 goals are also tops among all AHL defensemen.
His road to the NHL has been a somewhat tumultuous one since he was drafted in 2003. Standing at an even six feet tall and weighing 188 pounds, the diminutive defenseman has had to face constant scrutiny about his size in addition to overcoming a serious knee injury on the way to his ultimate goal of being an NHL defenseman.
Gervais, though, has overcome every obstacle put his path so far, and he’s well on his way to making a name for himself as a capable and steady professional defenseman.
Captain of his junior team for the QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the offensive-minded defenseman posted 76 points (30 goals, 46 assists) in 160 career games. A look at those numbers would suggest the high-scoring backliner would have been a valuable commodity to any NHL team. But his size was working against him, and the Islanders waited until the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft to pick him.
“Actually, I didn’t expect to go anywhere,” he said of his draft day potential. “A few days before the draft, I was told it was 50/50. Defensemen in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are not well known. It’s known more for offense and goalies. And being a small defenseman – I was only 5’11 at he time – they were saying ‘you’re too small and you’re not heavy, so it’ll be tough. If a team likes you, they’ll get you, but if not, better luck next year.’
“I didn’t even go to the draft. They told me not to go because it’s really tough mentally if you go and don’t get drafted. So, I stayed home and a phone call woke me up one morning and said I got drafted, and I was like, ‘what?’ And it’s been good ever since.”
Gervais appears to be close to landing a spot on the big club as soon as next season, a position he actually found himself in shortly after he was drafted in 2003.
Gervais made his presence felt at his first professional training camp before the 2003-04 NHL season, but the rookie fell victim to a numbers crunch, and the Islanders made the tough decision to send the talented defenseman down to the AHL.
“When I was young, and in my junior career, people were saying I was too small, and that was tough,” he said of his opportunity. “So, then I got drafted, and I was a big surprise at camp. I ended up being one of the last guys. They were down to eight defensemen and I was the last cut.”
The disappointment for the up and coming backliner didn’t end there, however. During the course of that same season, Gervais sustained a serious knee injury while trying out for the Canadian World Junior Team. The setback limited him to just 23 games for Acadie-Bathurst that season, where he picked up 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) before the injury ended his season in December.
“It was really tough because things really stared to get rolling,” he said. “Everything was going well. I went back [to the AHL], then came the All-Star Game, then the World Junior Invitation. It was between me and Ian White on the blue line, and I wasn’t sure if I had a chance to make it or not, I just wanted them to take the decision to the end. But then came the bad luck, and that’s when I hurt my knee. I had to start all the way from the bottom and work my way back up.”
The collision was made all the more frustrating due to the fact that it happened during a practice match-up.
‘It was intersquad,” Gervais said. “We were playing and it was nothing big. I was just near the net and Daniel Paille came, and it was just a normal hit. But my leg got tweaked and that’s how I got hurt.”
Upon his return from the knee injury, Gervais put together a successful 2004-05 campaign in Bridgeport, where he scored 30 points on the strength of 8 goals and 22 assists.
His season was somewhat overshadowed by his defense partner and friend Chris Campoli, who had a breakout season with 49 points (15 goals, 34 assists) in 79 games and +13 rating. Campoli is currently playing in his first NHL season with the Islanders and Gervais is glad to see him finding success.
“He’s doing well,” he said of his former blue line mate. “He’s the kind of guy who came out of nowhere too. He’s playing really good up there and he’s going to have a long and great career.”
The two were reunited on the blue line last month when Gervais got called up on a short four-game stint with the Islanders. The rookie faced a tough task on his first NHL shift, which came against the talent-laden Detroit Red Wings, but said that playing with his former teammate made it easier for him.
“Oh, it was unbelievable,” he said of the experience. “My first shift was with Chris, so it was great. He’s a great guy, so that made it more comfortable. It was unreal. It was two 21-year-old guys going up against [Brendan] Shanahan and those guys. It was great.”
If Gervais continues to play as well as he has this season, chances are, it won’t be too long before the two are reunited in the NHL for good.
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