102717 Crunch vs Marlies Joseph

Crunch forward Mathieu Joseph rushes the puck up the ice against the Marlies at the Onondaga County War Memorial on Oct. 27.

Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen

SYRACUSE — Mathieu Joseph was told to not worry about the statistics.

The Syracuse rookie, who averaged more than a point per game in junior, was held to a single assist over his first nine professional games. After a meeting with Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx, Joseph recorded four points in two games against the Rocket in front of friends and family in Laval.

Joseph is taking Groulx’s words to heart as he adapts to the pro game.

“He told me that he wanted me to have fun on the ice,” Joseph said. “My confidence wasn’t really there and I was trying to analyze the game too much. He gave me a little bit of a boost of confidence.”

For Groulx, the meetings with players — especially the younger ones — happen almost every day. Usually it’s to go over what they’re doing well and what needs improvement.

This meeting, with Joseph about to play roughly 30 miles from his hometown of Chambly, Quebec, had a specific message.

“Go out there and have fun,” Groulx said. “It’s a fun game. It’s a hockey game, right? Put things in perspective — you’re in Montreal, friends are there, family is there — go out there and play hockey the way you can, and things will fall into place. That was basically my message.”

Joseph recorded his first two pro goals and added an assist in a 6-5 shootout loss to Laval on Friday. In the rematch Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2015 fourth-rounder had an assist, but the Crunch fell to the Rocket 5-2.

For Joseph, he was playing with more instinct like he did in junior.

“It took me a little bit to adjust,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m still adjusting right now, but these two games gave me more confidence I didn’t have the first nine games.”

Joseph registered 248 points in 229 career games with the Saint Johns Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 53 points in 89 games over the first two seasons, but had 153 points in 112 regular season games over the last two seasons.

Joseph finished with 32 points in 18 playoff games to lead the Sea Dogs to the QMJHL title.

“Obviously at the end you have a bigger role,” Joseph said of his final season with the Sea Dogs. “At first you start pretty young and stuff, but at the end you’re 19 and you’re used to the league and you’re one of the older (players) in the league so your role changes over the years. I think that’s what happened. I was more of a defensive guy at first and then I played a little bit of both. I tried to turn into more of an offensive and defensive game.”

Despite the success, Joseph still knows there’s adjustments to be made as he continues his first pro season.

“It’s a different game,” Joseph said. “It’s faster, guys are bigger and you have less space on the ice. It took me a little bit to adapt.”

Not worrying about the points — but rather the focus on improving his overall game — is what Joseph knows he has to work on to make it to be successful in the AHL and make it to the next level.

“I think the hardest thing here is you play so many games and you can’t expect to have two points every night,” Joseph said. “You just try to be consistent in your game in general. I think that’s probably the hardest thing as a pro player. In junior sometimes you can coast a little bit. Here you can’t really, so that consistency has to be something I have to work on.

“I have to bring my game every night and I’ll go from there.”

Sports writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 315-282-2256 or at jeremy.houghtaling@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenHough.

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