by Zach Dooley | AHL On The Beat Archive
If you watched Tousignant play without knowing him off the ice, it could be hard to like him. It’s difficult to think of a game this season that Tousignant was in the lineup for where he wasn’t under someone’s skin on the other team.
That player recently was Troy Bodie, a 6-foot-4-inch, bruising winger for the Toronto Marlies, who scrapped with Tousignant in the March 14 game at the Civic Center. Tousignant, who stands at just 5-foot-11, once again fought with a bigger player than himself and held his own.
“I really love the game, the way I play it,” Tousignant said. “Getting under other team’s skin, I just love it. I don’t think I have too many friends outside of my team, but I love that type of play.”
That’s not to say Tousignant is a player without skill or ability. He finished his final season of junior hockey in 2008-09 at over a point-per-game pace, with 77 points from 68 games, split between the Prince Edward Island Rocket and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. But the thing with professional hockey is that nearly everyone was a scorer in juniors. And when he made it to the professional ranks, Tousignant found out early that he would need to play the game differently than the status quo to make it at this level.
“When I jumped to professional hockey in the AHL, my first coach, Glen Gulutzan, told me that I had to change my style, to do things that other players didn’t want to do.”
How Tousignant changed his game was by taking his vigor and his drive and turning it into the physical side of the game. He responded with 495 penalty minutes over parts of six professional seasons, many of which came through fighting, a part of the game that comes with getting under the skin of other players.
“We rely on him in situations that get our opponents on edge, he’s an agitating guy to play against,” Huska said. “That’s what makes him a special player.”
Playing the game that way can certainly be taxing, but it fits Tousignant like a glove. It’s not a coincidence that Huska used the word energy to describe the center. Tousignant comes to the rink with the same energy as a person that he does as a player.
It was that energy that came to the forefront just over one month ago, on February 16, when Tousignant, along with three of his Adirondack Flames teammates, Sena Acolatse,Turner Elson and Bryce Van Brabant, visited the Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, NY. Double H Ranch is a special place in the upstate New York community, where children with disabilities get the chance to ski in the winter.
When the Ranch staff asked the players which of them was crazy enough to ski down the mountain in the adaptive sled, Tousignant’s teammates immediately signed him up. In what has become known as “Tousi’s Wild Ride,” he flew down the mountain with a smile on his face as he got to experience how children with disabilities are able to ski.
This is the same Mathieu Tousignant, who just three days before dropped the gloves with Rochester’s Jerome Leduc. The same player who leads the Flames with 12 fights this season and brings energy and passion to the lineup every night.
For Tousignant, it’s the energy that always shines through, regardless of whether it’s on the ice or in the community. Tousignant has led the Flames this season in community appearances with a variety of different events, just as he leads the team in fights. But for Tousignant, it’s never difficult to separate the energy he has on the ice from the off-ice activities. For him, it’s just another place where he can exert it.
“I enjoy doing the community stuff,” Tousignant remarked. “I remember when I was a kid we had a junior team in my hometown and we could skate with them and do things with them, I remember it like it was yesterday. If I can give it back to the kids here, that’s one thing I enjoy doing. My family gave me the value when I was a kid to take care of the person next to you, it doesn’t matter who it is and that’s just the way I’ve been living life.”
In early December, Tousignant, alongside teammate Ryan Culkin, spent an afternoon at the Glens Falls Youth Center, a center for local kids to enjoy after their time after school. The two Flames players hung out with kids, playing basketball, dodgeball and other games throughout their stay.
The kids played games of knockout in the gym and Tousignant would not stop playing until he was able to win one. As he remarked after the event, he may have gotten more of a workout than he did earlier in practice earlier that day. Tousignant, as he tends to at community events, may also have enjoyed being there even more than the kids did, which isn’t hard to believe with the smiles he and Culkin gave to the room.
“He’s a real good person,” Huska said. “I think first and foremost when you have good people, when you take them away from their work setting, they’re great people around the community and [Tousignant] is one of those people. He loves to help, to be around and do things and he’s just a very caring person.”
Tousignant’s energy and personality is infectious, something he said he always tries to bring every time he comes into the Civic Center.
“When you get to the rink, you should enjoy being at the rink,” he said. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was three years old and the only reason why I play is because I love it. I come here every day with a smile on my face and when you do, you’re more likely to put a smile on a teammate’s face too.”
Although it’s never a reaction he will instill in his opponents, Tousignant’s outlook on hockey has always been the right one, on and off the ice. It’s that combination of what Tousignant brings to not only the Flames but to the local community as well, which has made him such a favorite amongst the coaches, staff and fans here in Glens Falls, something that will be remembered long after the Flames leave the area after the season.