Gwinnett Gladiators rookie forward Jonathan Narbonne works against the Greenville Road Warriors in the seaon opener last Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
Gwinnett Gladiators defenseman Jonathan Narbonne, a rookie out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, scored his first pro goal in the season opener last Friday. It was a good start for the decorated junior player, who was named the QMJHL’s best defensive defenseman last year while setting a career high with 46 points for Moncton and won a Memorial Cup with Shawinigan in 2011-12.
Narbonne finished with 104 points and 145 penalty minutes playing 229 games with four teams in the QMJHL. He was signed by the Gladiators at the end of last season, but didn’t get to play in a game. The 21-year-old chose to come back to Gwinnett and scored a game-tying goal against Greenville last week.
In this installment of “Getting to Know …,” Narbonne talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including winning the top trophy in major junior hockey, moving to Gwinnett after a lifetime in Montreal and being a DJ with a hit song.
CT: Did it feel good to get that first goal out of the way so early in the season?
JN: Oh, yeah. Last year I was here and I wanted to play. It’s part of my game to shoot on net so to get the first goal was really fun. Last year for the Glads, I didn’t have the chance, but this year, first game, second period, it was fun to score.
CT: You were picked as the best defensive defenseman in the Q. Do you mind that there’s not a lot of glory in being a defensive defenseman?
JN: Not really. Because usually I’m on power play and I have my couple of shots in a game. Last year I was defensive defenseman because I was playing in the Maritime Division and we were pretty strong. I think all the points I had last year, a couple of them were on PP, and I like to play 5-on-5 and support the rush. But I’m a still a defensive defenseman, blocking shots and that.
CT: The old stereotype was that of the three major junior leagues, the Q put the highest premium on finesse and offense, while the WHL was known for its physical play and more defense. Is that outdated thinking?
JN: I think that’s still true, but I went to the Memorial Cup and playing against the WHL team, they were big, but we finished our hits as much as them. Even we thought, “Oh, WHL, they’re going to be big and hit hard.”
The Q is a skill league. Guys try to dangle and that’s why — (laughing) — there are turnovers. We’re not used to chipping the puck (in and out of the zones) like the college guys. We see those guys play and we know we can get better with that.
CT: What had you signing with the Gladiators?
JN: When (my team) got kicked out in the first round last year, (goaltender) Louis (Domingue) spoke to me about the team and (GM Steve Chapman) called me. (Head coach) John (Wroblewski) called me, too, and said he’d like me here with the guys to maybe play.
It’s a nice city and a nice place to play — even though I didn’t have a chance to play — and I wanted to come here if I didn’t have an American League chance. I knew I wanted to play here if I couldn’t play in the AHL.
CT: Was the South what you thought it would be?
JN: I didn’t expect anything. I don’t think too much about those things. I only want to play hockey — wherever. If the rink’s nice and the city isn’t nice, I wouldn’t care. But now it’s a bonus that it’s a nice city.
CT: You hadn’t lived very far from home before, right?
JN: No, never. I played in Montreal, which was like 15 minutes away. Boisbriand was 15 minutes away. I played in Shawinigan and it was two hours away. I would go down every weekend. I played in Moncton last year, but my mother’s family is from there so they would come to every game. I’ve always been with my family all through junior.
This is the first time I’m alone, but I know a couple guys. There are a lot of guys from the Q this year so we can talk and I came last year so I know a couple more guys. It’s fun.
CT: Were you surprised when you got here how many guys from the Q were on the team? It’s unusual for the Gladiators.
JN: For sure. It’s unusual I know. I think it only shows the Q is getting to be a better league. We won the last three Memorial Cups. We’re getting better. But pro hockey is way different than junior. We saw the in games last weekend that we need to adjust a couple parts of our play. But we have a lot of potential on the team.
CT: Are you working on teaching the rest of the team more French?
JN: Yeah. I talk French with (Kurtis Barliff). I try to talk French with a couple of guys, (Daniel) Spivak and (Nathan) Martine (all from Ontario).
CT: You’re from just outside Montreal?
JN: Yep. There’s a bridge between me and Montreal. I can walk there.
CT: Are there things you miss from home? Other than friends and family?
JN: Not really. I was anxious to go my own way and try to be alone for real. Now I’m with two other guys in the apartment, which is fun, and my girlfriend is coming soon. So it’s going to be great.
CT: Who are your roommates?
JN: (Alex) Belzile and (Philippe) Halley.
CT: Are you guys good at sharing the responsibilities?
JN: Oh, yeah, everything is good. It’s really clean. I’m surprised (laughing). I thought it was going to be a mess.
CT: Do you share the cooking?
JN: Before games, I cook. This summer I was living with my girlfriend and I would try to help her. She showed me a couple of tricks. But pasta isn’t hard. Chicken either.
Belzile usually does dinner during the week because he’s out (with an injury).
CT: In junior, you played two years in Montreal and your third year, you were traded?
JN: I did a transfer from Montreal to Boisbriand. That was a dream to play with the Armada. I knew so many people at that rink because I work out there during the summers. It was a great experience to be there for half the season. Shawinigan was going for the cup and they needed defense. They traded me at Christmas. Everything went well for us.
CT: Did you feel good about it at the time? Being traded, even in that situation, isn’t easy.
JN: I didn’t know a lot of guys. I had been in Montreal for two and a half years. I had my routine and my good friends. I got traded to (Shawinigan) and I was alone, trying to find something to do. It was my first time being traded so it was a different experience. When I was traded to Moncton (early last season), I was used to it.
But Shawinigan was hard to get used to.
CT: Did it help the team was so good?
JN: Yeah, the hockey helped. I was the only one on defense who hadn’t been drafted by the National League. We were really pretty good on defense. Forward, too. But things didn’t work for us in playoffs and we got kicked out in the second round. For a month, we got bag skated every day.
(Note: The host of the Memorial Cup gets an automatic berth, so Shawinigan got a chance to win it despite losing in the QMJHL’s playoffs.)
CT: How long were the longer bus rides for you?
JN: I think 20, 21 hours, depending on the snow.
CT: So you know what you’re getting into in the ECHL?
JN: Yeah, all the guys have traveled a lot. Plus there are beds in the bus. That makes it way easier.
CT: What’s your preferred method for passing the time?
JN: Cellphone, iPad. Sleep.
CT: What kind of music do you listen to?
JN: Everything. I grew up with country with my mom being from New Brunswick, rap, everything.
CT: I heard you are a DJ on the side?
JN: Yeah, last year I did three songs with my friend. We were playing together in Shawinigan and we released a song (“Internet Spaceman”). There’s a lot of teams, from university to junior A, that asked for the song for their warmup. So we did a second one (“The Clubber Anthem”). I think the first one, when I last checked, was at like 15,000 views (on YouTube). The second one was a little bit less. We did a third one that was really good and got a lot of retweets. It was pretty fun.
CT: Are there any TV shows you really like?
JN: I’m pretty relaxed away from hockey. I have a no-stress mentality. I’m addictive to TV shows.
CT: What are some of your favorites?
JN: “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” “Walking Dead.”