Lajeunesse Is Solid Backup For Bombers

By Sean McClelland
Dayton Daily News

FAIRBORN, Ohio – You’ve just been traded from the Fresno Falcons to the Gwinnett Gladiators. You’re driving cross-country to your new hockey home, but you stop in Amarillo, Texas, for a good night’s sleep at a roadside motel.

The next morning, you wake up to find that everything you own, except for your car, which now has a busted window, is gone.

That’s what happened to Bombers goalie Simon Lajeunesse just before Christmas.

“I had $3,000 worth of (custom-made) hockey equipment stolen,” said Lajeunesse. “I had to get out of hockey for a month because I didn’t have any equipment. No clothes, no nothing. They took everything. My computer, my clothes, everything.”

On Jan. 27, after only a few games with the Gladiators, Lajeunesse was on the move again, sold to the Bombers, who needed a second goaltender after Andrew Penner was summoned to Syracuse. But he couldn’t get here for a while because he had a 104-degree fever. Then a snowstorm closed the Atlanta airport, delaying his arrival another few days.

Sometimes the travails of minor-league hockey players border on unbelievable, but believe this: Lajeunesse, once a second-round draft choice of the Ottawa Senators, has settled in nicely as the veteran backup to rookie Mike Ayers, fortifying what already had been the team’s only true strength.

Various maladies kept Lajeunesse out of action for five months last season. A groin injury lingered through the summer and slowed his conditioning.

“He’s done fine,” Bombers coach/GM Don MacAdam said. “He’s known to be a little bit hot and cold, but that kind of goes with the position. He loves to play, he’s a real competitive guy and he’s technically very sound.”

The Bombers are in last place but it’s not because of shaky goaltending. Ayers, from the University of New Hampshire, had a shutout through regulation Tuesday night but lost in overtime to Atlantic City. Lajeunesse allowed two goals Thursday night in Reading and lost, 2-0.

Dayton is Lajeunesse’s sixth team in two years. The 24-year-old Quebec native has made ECHL stops in Mobile, Ala., Peoria, Ill.; Augusta, Ga.; Columbus, Ga.; Fresno and Gwinnett. He’s been with Grand Rapids, Binghamton and San Antonio of the AHL and even appeared in one game with the Senators in the 2001-02 season, making nine saves.

In 22 games this season, Lajeunesse has a 3.20 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. But his Dayton numbers (10 games, 2.80, .906) are better.

“I’m really comfortable since I got here,” Lajeunesse said. “I had a really tough run the last two years, but I feel like I’m me again, the guy who got drafted and played in the NHL. I feel pretty good.”