Junior Update

     Former Minnesota Duluth winger Junior Lessard started the season with the American Hockey League Iowa Stars and now is with Norfolk (Va.) This story appeared recently in the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Lessard has 6-9-15 in 18 games with Norfolk and overall is 16-20-36 in 54 AHL games this season.

By Tris Wykes

     Norfolk, Va. — When Junior Lessard was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning by the Dallas Stars earlier this season, there were the usual, day-to-day challenges to overcome.
     One apartment had to be packed while another living space had to be arranged. Lessard flew straight to Virginia after the swap to join his new team, the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals. But at the league’s all star break a few weeks later, he flew to Iowa, where he’d been playing for the Stars’ AHL affiliate, so he could retrieve his car and drive it back to his new work place.
     In addition, there were new teammates to meet and new linemates to mesh with. A new system to learn. But none of it fazed Lessard, who’s never been afraid of leaving his comfort zone and has endured much worse than a professional life turned upside down at a moment’s notice.
     It helped that the mature and personable 27-year old was excited by the trade. After more than three seasons with Dallas, his enthusiasm and focus were wearing thin.
     "Since I’ve been here, every game I’m excited to play," said Lessard. "I think I had lost a little bit of that excitement."
     There wasn’t much in the way of conventional excitement in St.-Joseph-de-Beauce, a rural Quebec town of 4,500 where Lessard grew up on his family’s dairy farm. Lessard shot so many pucks at a net under the family’s carport and so ravaged a nearby wall that his mother tried to hide his hockey goal in the barn.
     The former Minnesota Duluth player had 10 goals and 21 points in 36 Iowa games this season when he was sent to Norfolk in exchange for Admirals defenseman and team captain Dan Jancevski. Although he hasn’t torn up Eastern Conference nets, Lessard has nonetheless impressed Norfolk coach Steve Stirling.
     "He’s a much better all-around player than I would have suspected," said Stirling, who also uses Lessard for penalty killing. "But he’s also scored a couple times where you said to yourself ‘That’s a goal-scorer’s goal.’ "
     Lessard will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and again able to choose for which NHL team he wants to labor. But he’s hoping to boost his appeal with some games for Tampa Bay before the end of the current campaign.
     "You start from scratch with a new organization and I have to prove myself here first," Lessard said of Norfolk. "Then if I get a chance, I have to prove myself to the coaches up in Tampa."