MONTREAL – There’s an inherent pressure that comes with being a member of the Montreal Canadiens organization, but Blake Geoffrion knows the spotlight will shine even brighter on him.
Banners honouring his grandfather Bernard (Boom-Boom) Geoffrion and great-grandfather Howie Morenz hang from the rafters at Montreal’s Bell Centre, both men’s numbers having been retired by the club.
Geoffrion, 24, was acquired by the Canadiens last week in the trade that sent Hal Gill to Nashville, but the he’ll have to wait to don the famous Habs jersey after the NHL club assigned him to the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
He was getting the opportunity to soak up some family history at the Bell Centre on Friday, however, as the Bulldogs were scheduled to play St. John’s in Montreal.
Just across from Geoffrion’s designated stall in the Canadiens dressing room was a photo of his grandfather, the man he called Papi.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “This morning I was taking pictures with Papi’s picture and Howie’s picture. It’s a special feeling, for sure.
“I just still can’t believe I’m here.”
It marked the first time the NHL’s first fourth-generation player had been to the Bell Centre in nearly six years. His last visit came the night the Canadiens retired his grandfather’s No. 5.
The family connection has inevitably been brought up more than a few times over the last week but that wasn’t why Montreal management wanted him.
“The one thing (general manager Pierre Gauthier) made real clear to me was that he didn’t trade for me because of my name but because he thought I was a good player and had potential to have a good NHL career,” Geoffrion said. “That was good to hear.”
He made his NHL debut last season, recording six goals and two assists in 20 games. His sophomore season, however, has been more of a struggle. On the Predators roster to start the year, Geoffrion recorded just three assists in 22 games for his hometown team before being assigned to AHL Milwaukee, where he had two goals and seven assists in 20 games.
He’s been given a fresh start in the Canadiens organization and has taken full advantage. In three games in his new hockey home, Geoffrion already has two goals and five assists.
“Injuries have really hurt me this year and I played fourth line and not a lot of minutes in Nashville so I wasn’t able to produce and I kind of lost that confidence with the puck a little bit,” he said. “But coming here and getting a fresh start, playing with Natty (Joonas Nattinen), who’s been really hot, and (Andreas) Engqvist, who’s a great puck-mover and feeds me a lot. I’m just getting a lot of confidence and feeling good with the puck right now.”
While the Hall of Fame name will always be on his back, Bulldogs head coach Clement Jodoin has helped his new recruit keep an even keel.
“The first thing I told him when I met him was to be himself,” he said. “I know your grandfather and great-grandfather played but Blake needs to be Blake.”
Jodoin likes what he’s seen so far, noting the numerous scoring chances Geoffrion has produced. But he also knows that it’s still early.
“There are a bunch of factors that you have to look at to better evaluate a player,” said Jodoin. “Right now, he looks good—he carries himself well, has a good attitude. To make it to the next level, you have to be consistent.”
Geoffrion is hoping to find his way back to the NHL sooner rather than later. He feels he’s taken a step forward on that front with his hot start in Hamilton.
“Every level is bigger, stronger, faster so just keep working on those things, keep my confidence with the puck, try to play an all-around game and just work hard every single night,” he said. “When I start with that—working hard and winning the battles—a lot of things fall into place after that.”