International Ice Hockey Federation

Don’t tussle with Roussel

Don’t tussle with Roussel

French agitator expanding his role

Published 05.05.2017 08:02 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Don’t tussle with Roussel
Antoine Roussel's best IIHF World Championship was 2014, as he scored 11 points for France and was named a tournament all-star. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
Antoine Roussel is almost always in the NHL’s top 10 penalty minute leaders. But his native France isn’t always in the top 10 at the IIHF World Championship.

Those two facts obscure two other key realities. First, despite being a well-known agitator and fighter, the 27-year-old left wing has more ability than he’s often given credit for. And second, France, which has more than 21,000 registered players, is a hockey nation on the rise.

Roussel plays an all-around game, getting tons of defensive-zone starts with the Dallas Stars and blocking shots with persistent bravery. He also generates offense, and he’ll be expected to do that when he plays his fifth Worlds on home ice in Paris.

When early-season ailments left the Stars without key forwards like Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, and Cody Eakin, Roussel took advantage. Between November 5 and 15, he enjoyed a career-high seven-game point streak, amassing three goals and six assists in that span. In 2016-17, he finished with 27 points, the second-highest total in his NHL career, despite playing just 60 games due to injuries.

During the November streak, Roussel was tickled by the chance to suit up on a line with centre Tyler Seguin and right wing Patrick Eaves, who was traded to Anaheim on 24 February. Seguin, 25, led the 2015 IIHF World Championship with nine goals for the gold-medalist Canadians.

“That makes it fun to play,” Roussel told “I play all the time with good players. Seggy is in the top 10 or 20 players in this league. It makes it easy.”

Yet overall, nothing has come easily for the Roubaix-born forward. Growing up in Paris, he first played rugby, but decided to tackle hockey seriously, moving to Canada with his family at age 16. Undrafted after four seasons with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, he battled his way through the ECHL and AHL ranks before finally making his NHL debut with Dallas in 2013.

Whereas some players easily shake off a defeat after the final horn sounds, Roussel absolutely hates to lose. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice in his post-game interviews. The 181-cm, 91-kg veteran took it hard when Dallas was eliminated in Game Seven of the 2016 second round by the St. Louis Blues, ending the Stars’ best playoff run since reaching the 2008 Western Conference finals.

That defeat meant he had more time for off-ice activities, like caring for his cat, Django “Minou” Roussel, promoting the Dallas clothing store Mizzen+Main, and spending time with his wife Alexandra. However, it wasn’t what he wanted, and he certainly never expected that the Stars would miss the post-season this year. The team has re-hired coach Ken Hitchcock, who led them to the 1999 Stanley Cup, and hopes to revive their winning spirit in 2017-18.

The bar for success is different with the French national team. Coach Dave Henderson, 64, has kept Les Bleus in the elite division since 2008, and that remains the primary goal. Roussel is a fan of the Winnipeg-born bench boss.

“I think he brings a good attitude around the locker room,” Roussel said. “He makes sure everybody’s ready. He’s a player’s coach. He just wants you to succeed out there. He’s a good coach. He gets you fired up.”

Roussel was at his most fired-up at the 2014 tournament in Belarus. He cracked the media all-star team – the only Frenchman ever to reap that honour – after racking up six goals and five assists in eight games on a line with Stephane Da Costa and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. (By comparison, superstar Alexander Ovechkin had four goals and seven assists in 10 games as Russia won gold.)

“Everything was going perfectly,” Roussel recalled. “That line with Stephane and Pierre-Edouard, we found each other pretty well on the ice. Everybody complemented everybody else pretty well. It was a good atmosphere.”

France finished eighth in 2014, matching its best modern-era result from 1995. Beyond Roussel’s line, what was the key?

“All the boys were confident. We took it one win at a time. I remember we lost against the Italians and everybody was so disspirited, thinking we might go down. But Pierre-Edouard took the lead and everybody kind of followed. That was kind of it. Nobody wanted to give up. We made the quarter-finals, even though we lost that game [3-0 to Russia]. We didn’t have enough gas in the tank at the end.”

At the 2016 Worlds in Russia, the French came 14th without Roussel in the lineup. But his 2017 return could give them the fuel they need for another quarter-final berth.


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