SHERBROOKE – When the Canadiens came calling on July 1, Cedrick Desjardins didn’t hesitate to answer.
Traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in August 2010, Desjardins left the Habs family with certain career goals not yet realized. One would come to fruition two and a half months after the trade, when the goaltender made his NHL debut – against Montreal.
Another, however, was still on his mind.
“I was looking to take care of unfinished business with the organization. I had been there for four years and didn’t have a chance to wear the (Canadiens) jersey for a real game so that was a challenge I put on myself,” said Desjardins, who spent the 2011-12 season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters (affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche).
He thought his NHL opportunity in Montreal might come when the Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak in May 2010. But when the team signed veterans Alex Auld and Curtis Sanford that summer, he could see the writing on the wall.
To date, his NHL résumé stands pat at two appearances, both with the Lightning. A slew of injuries haven’t helped his cause over the years but when he’s been healthy, he’s gotten the job done. In 148 career AHL games, Desjardins is 80-44-11, with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Take out his first two seasons – during which he played just 15 games total – and his goals-against drops to 2.26 while his save percentage rises to .919.
“For me, [the injuries] may have stopped me from playing but it hasn’t stopped me from performing (to my ability). That’s what you want – to keep the same level of performance,” he noted. “You have to work and build your way up. It takes time and I’m ready for the next challenge in front of me.”
The likely starter in Hamilton given his experience and stability in the crease, Desjardins won’t be without competition with youngsters Robert Mayer and Peter Delmas both looking to take the next step, as well. He knows Mayer from his final season with the Bulldogs before the trade. Delmas is a fellow Quebec Remparts almunus.
“They’re great young guys that work hard, they’re honest and they’ll make us a good trio for the Bulldogs this year. We’re just looking forward to help this team win games,” the 27-year-old said.
Much has changed since Desjardins last called the Canadiens organization home. Beyond the on-ice personnel is the new staff in the Habs’ front office and behind the bench in both Montreal and Hamilton.
And, for the first time since becoming a part of the team’s system in 2006-07, he won’t be relying solely on the Habs’ goaltending coach to help him with his game. With a heavy focus on player development since taking over as general manager, Marc Bergevin added former NHL netminder Vincent Riendeau to the Bulldogs’ staff as a goaltending consultant.
“It’s big,” he said of having Riendeau around. “When you have someone there, they can see the little things before they become big things. You can work things out on your own but it’s good to have somebody besides yourself to tell you what to work on.”
Work is exactly what Desjardins has had to do to for everything he has achieved over the course of his hockey career. He had been told he would never play Midget AAA or junior hockey but he did, drafted in the 13th round (200th overall) in the QMJHL draft in 2002. Passed over by NHL teams on draft day, he started his pro career on a two-way AHL pact with the Bulldogs before earning an NHL deal with the Canadiens.
He says he’s been working on his patience in net, being tougher to beat on initial shots and developing as a leader on and off the ice. With the calibre of talent gracing the AHL as long as the lockout holds and a young defence in front of him, the opportunity to see his game reach another level will be readily available.
As for that unfinished business he’d like to tend to, only time will tell.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Desjardins said. “Just one step at a time has been my recipe the whole time.”