Paul Bissonnette is back for more. T.J. Hensick will have a fresh start.
Two of Ontario’s veterans, both signed to AHL deals in the offseason, will be expected to bring their games in their own way for the 2016-17 season.
For a third straight season Bissonnette, well-known as a lovable winger in all hockey circles, is again entrusted with showing younger players the standard in which professionals need to carry themselves on and off the ice.
“With the [AHL] rules and you’re only allowed five vets playing, it kind of helps when you have an older guy that’s — if I’m not contributing offensively or in other ways — it’s nice to maybe behind the scenes, work ethic, preparation and things like that, instill in them young so they’re prepared when they do get [to the NHL]. It’s all about habits,” said the 31-year-old Bissonnette.
“When I was younger I kind of got off the path a little bit and didn’t really know what it took and a couple guys started showing me and the off-ice part of it is just as big as the on-ice and that’s helped me out along the way in smarting up as far as eating habits, sleeping habits, preparation mentally, just those kinds of things and that’s what I hope to add and help out.”
He also will continue to be a comedic buffer between his teammates and Reign head coach Mike Stothers. Bissonnette, who was limited to 35 games last season due to various injuries, is often on the receiving end of Stothers’ punchlines from anything and everything — his play, his to his flavorful personality.
That’s all fine with Bissonnette, who is appreciating his time with the organization and is “ecstatic” to return to it.
“I knew I would be one of the last guys [signed] but I was just happy we got something done,” said Bissonnette, who’s going into his 12th season of pro hockey. “I’m very thankful to be back. I don’t know how many years I have left so when I do play I’d like it to be in this organization and I’m comfortable here and that means a lot to me at my age.”
Hensick on the other hand comes to Ontario seeking a new beginning with a well-equipped Kings farm team. The four-time AHL All-Star saw his offensive production somewhat dip last season in time split between the Charlotte Checkers and Utica Comets (9 goals, 31 assists in 65 games). That being said, his 40 points would have put him in the top five for Reign scoring. In nine AHL seasons the 30-year-old has put up 60 points or more five times and 70 points twice.
For the sake of comparison, the compact center is listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, and as such carries a similar build of former King Mike Cammalleri, who like Hensick played collegiately at the University of Michigan. With the Reign he’ll be expected to replace the contributions of players like Kris Newbury, who was not re-signed.
“Hopefully we can build on what they’ve done,” Hensick said. “Obviously a Calder Cup championship two years ago and a pretty good run last year. I’ve only been here since Sunday but it seems like a real good group, big, strong, fast group so it should be a good team down in Ontario.”
He’s eager to embrace his new role with the new opportunity.
“Definitely to be an older guy in the locker room, some experience, help the younger guys with their game and ultimately win hockey games,” Hensick said. “At the end of the day that’s what we want to do and I’m looking forward to it. Obviously this organization has had a lot of success the last two, three, four years down in the American League so hopefully I can bring my game down there and help them continue to win.”
Hensick, on watching Ontario last season:
I think they beat us pretty heavily. I was hurt last year when they played us in Charlotte so I vividly remember watching the two games there. They took it to us pretty well. Like I said it’s a big, strong, physical team that can skate and that’s what you need nowadays in this league.
Hensick, on the protests in Charlotte:
It’s crazy. I have a cousin and my aunt who live there and obviously it’s scary to think about what’s been going down. Last night I was watching MSNBC and the people laying down in the streets there at like 11:45. It’s scary, everything that’s been going on and hopefully they can contain it down there and you just think them and wish them the best.