This year the Montreal Canadiens have sent six players to the East Coast Hockey League, with five of those playing for Columbus Cottonmouths, and Jerome Marois who was loaned to the Long Beach Ice Dogs. Neither team was able to secure a spot in the playoffs this season, but Columbus came close as they fought till the very end of the season but fell just short. Joining Columbus this year was, Matt Shasby, Christian Larrivee, Olivier Michaud and Marc-Andre Thinel, with all of these players being first year pros except the ECHL vet Marc-Andre Thinel who suited up for his third season as a professional hockey player. Shasby, Larrivee, Thinel and Michaud have all been recalled to Hamilton to workout with the team as they get ready for their playoff run. Here’s a look at how they all preformed this season and a look at what next season may bring.
Matt Shasby- LD. Taken back in the 1999 draft in the fifth round, 150th overall, Shasby was signed over the summer to a two year deal after finishing his four seasons at Alaska -Anchorage of the WCHA conference in the NCAA. Shasby played in 127 games while at AAU and even added 92 games in the USHL where he won a championship. With the deep blueline in Hamilton this season, where NHL vets Karl Dykhuis and Patrick Traverse forced Shasby to the ECHL where he would get much more ice time as he learns to adapt to the rigors of professional hockey. A late season injury did cost him to miss a few games, but Shasby still found a way to lead the team in scoring for defensemen, an impressive way to finish the season. While he may have been disappointed in not getting to play for Hamilton this season, it may have benefitted him in the long run, as he was able to get a large chunk of ice time while playing in all game situations. Not only was he the leading scorer for defensemen on his team, he also was second on the team in power play points with 12 points. Next season Shasby should get a shot with Hamilton if he works hard this summer and has a solid camp, but the unknown factor is Ron Hainsey and Francois Beauchemin, who may or may not get a shot in the NHL if there is a season. If one of them makes the Habs, this should open a spot for Shasby, if not it’s back to the ECHL.
Marc-Andre Thinel- RW. Taken back in the 1999 draft, in the fifth round, 145th overall, Thinel entered this season in the final year of his three year rookie contract. Thinel had to know that he needed a big season to get managements attention, or he could face not being resigned, as he has been moved around quite a bit since being signed over two years ago. Thinel will be remembered for his impressive scoring display while with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL where he put up an astounding 385 points over three seasons. But Thinel learned that scoring in the Quebec league does not mean success in the AHL, as he had a very hard time getting ice time with the Quebec Citadelles, as he played on the fourth line on a team that used mostly three lines. The next season didn’t start off any better as Quebec folded and moved to Hamilton, where the team was splitting time with the Oilers organization. Since Hamilton had such a deep team, Thinel was loaned to Utah of the AHL, where he again had a tough time to get ice time, as he was moved in and out of the lineup and spent different parts of the season in Lexington of the ECHL. But this year he came back to Hamilton, and although he again couldn’t get much ice time with another strong team, he was sent down to Columbus of the ECHL. Many players may have given up by then, but Thinel went on to be one of the top players on his team as he finished fourth in team scoring overall, and first in scoring if you factor in points per game. Even though he only dressed in 47 games for the Cottonmouths, he was second on the team in game winning goals and had an impressive 183 shots. This must have caught the eye of Hamilton GM Andre Savard who recalled Thinel towards the end of the season to help Hamilton in their playoff drive. Next year is still very unknown for Thinel, as he will be a Restricted free agent this summer, so if he’s resigned he should get a shot with Hamilton, if not he will be forced to find a team to play for.
Christian Larrivee- LW/C. Taken in the 2000 draft, in the fourth round, 114th overall, Larrivee entered his first professional season after having a disappointing overage season with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL, where an injury forced his season to end early. This year Larrivee did not get much of a look in Hamilton, so he was sent down to Columbus of the ECHL, where he was able to get a regular shift and receive a large amount of ice time. While Larrivee did have problems in his own end, he was able to show improvement in this area as the season went on, and was eighth on the team in scoring while seeing time on the PP and PK. For his efforts he did receive a two game call up to Hamilton this year, where he picked up an assist in his first game, and an empty net goal in the second game, even though his ice time was limited. Next season Larrivee should get some time in with Hamilton, as he can play both left wing and center which should increase his chances to secure a spot.
Andrew Archer- RD. Taken in the 2001 draft, in the seventh round, 203rd overall, Archer spent most of the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, but did get sent down for a two game stint, as he’s had trouble getting ice time in Hamilton. While he only played in two games, Archer did pick up 15 minutes in penalties and had five shots on goal as he was placed on the Cottonmouths PP. Next year Archer should get a full time spot with Hamilton, as he may have the most potential of all the Habs prospects that saw time in the ECHL this year.
Olivier Michaud- G. Signed as a Free Agent in the fall of 2001, Michaud finished his final season in the QMJHL playing for Shawinigan and later Baie- Comeau Drakkar. While putting up solid numbers in the QMJHL, Michaud had the chance to even dress and play in one period of NHL hockey, as he got his chance against the Oilers two years ago due to injuries. With that on his resume, Michaud still had to work on some things, so he was sent to Columbus this year in his first pro season. While starting off the season with highs and lows, Michaud continued to work hard and was later paid off for his efforts, as he was recalled to Hamilton around mid season due to injuries. There again he hit some highs and lows, as he had the longest shutout streak of any Hamilton goaltender, but also had a few rough outings as well. Michaud will be a RFA this summer, and with the addition of Yann Danis, it’s unclear what will happen to the young Michaud, but he could end up in the ECHL again next year.
Jerome Marois- LW. Another player taken in the 1999 draft, in the ninth round 253rd overall. Marios like Thinel entered this season as the final year of his contract, and after a very disappointing season last year which saw him get sent down from the ECHL to the Odessa Jackalopes of the CHL. But Marois came to camp ready to play and did end up getting a brief look in Hamilton, but after two games was loaned to the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the ECHL. Playing in his third season in the ECHL, Marois was able to have a career year, even though he missed a large chunk of time due to injury. Playing on the last place Ice Dogs, Marois was fourth on the team in scoring, despite playing in only 50 games, and was second on the team in goals scored one goal behind the team leader who had 22 goals this season. Next year will depend on what management wants to do with Marois in terms of resigning him or letting him walk, but having a strong season only improves his chances of being back next year either with Hamilton or back in the ECHL again.