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Jean-François Houle receives multi-year contract and stays with Laval Rocket

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The Habs' farm team reached the AHL playoffs in two of Houle's three seasons as a bench player.

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Jean-François Houle is happy to be able to stay in Laval.

Laval Rockets general manager John Sedgwick announced Wednesday morning that the team has agreed to a multi-year contract with the head coach. Assistant coach Martin Laperrière, goaltending coach Marco Marciano and video coach Charles Juneau have also agreed to multi-year contract extensions.

During a video conference on Wednesday afternoon, Houle said his new contract will run for three years.

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“We're really excited and very grateful for the opportunity,” Houle said. “We've built a certain culture over the last three years and we're really happy that there's some continuity in that. I think it's good for the young players to have some continuity behind the bench. We had a group of young players last year and we've got another one coming in this year with all the draft picks Montreal has. It's a nice vote of confidence to be able to continue to work with these young players, so I'm very excited.”

The Canadiens had nine picks in last year's NHL Draft and have 12 picks this year, including two in the first round.

The Rockets, who have a very young roster, failed to make the playoffs this season and finished last in the North Division with a record of 33-31-8.

“Jean-François Houle has done an outstanding job as head coach of the Laval Rocket since his hiring in 2021,” Sedgwick said in a press release. “He and his staff have demonstrated the ability to balance team performance with player development, creating both a competitive culture and an ideal environment for the growth and maturation of our young players.”

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“His teams have made two playoff appearances in three years, including a semifinal appearance in the 2021-22 Calder Cup, and Jean-François and his staff have done an outstanding job during that time preparing numerous players to make the jump to the National Hockey League,” added Sedgwick. “His strong values, attention to detail and dedication to his craft, combined with over 20 years of coaching experience in four different leagues, make Houle the ideal fit for the Laval Rocket and Montreal Canadiens. The AHL represents a critical step in the development of many future NHL players and we are confident that Jean-François is the right person to continue to oversee that process.”

Earlier this month, the Rocket announced that assistant coach Kelly Buchberger would be leaving the team after three seasons as a defenceman. The former NHL player will become head coach and GM of the Devon Xtreme, an expansion team next season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Buchberger, a native of Saskatchewan, played 17 seasons in the NHL, including 12 with the Edmonton Oilers.

Houle said Buchberger has young children and wanted to find a job closer to his family in Edmonton and was happy he was able to do so.

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The AHL is a developmental league and there is more to it than just wins and losses for a team. The Canadiens are counting on Houle to continue to develop their young players during the rebuilding process and prepare them for NHL play.

“I wouldn't pinpoint a player, but I think it's great when a player steps up,” Houle said when asked about the players he's helped develop over the past three years. “When we get the call and can tell a player he's going to play his first game in the NHL, it's a great feeling — not just for the player, but for us coaches because we're involved in it. We're there to support him, and some of these players have to go through a lot to make it, and their parents have to go through a lot. So it's great to be able to make players better. As a coach, it's very satisfying when a player gets called up to the team.”

As a player, Houle was part of the Lac St. Louis Lions team that won the 1992 Air Canada Cup national midget championship before heading to Northwood School in Lake Placid, NY. He was selected by the Canadiens in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Draft and then spent four seasons at Clarkson University. He then moved to the minor leagues for five years, including a full season with the Fredericton Canadiens in the AHL, before becoming a coach.

Houle was an assistant coach at Clarkson for seven seasons, then head coach of the QMJHL's Lewiston MAINEiacs for two seasons and head coach of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada for three seasons. After posting a 40-22-6 record in his first season with the Armada in 2011-12, Houle won the Ron Lapointe Trophy as the QMJHL's top coach.

Houle then served as head coach of the Bakersfield Condors in the ECHL for one season, followed by six seasons as an assistant coach with the Condors after they were promoted to the AHL and became the farm team of the Edmonton Oilers. He left the Condors to become head coach of the Rocket in 2021.

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