Former Hull Olympique and Acadie-Bathurst Titan forward Roberto (Bob) Bissonnette was killed in a helicopter crash near Campbellton, NB, on Labour Day weekend.
The helicopter he was travelling in collided with power lines at about 4 p.m., and crashed into a land embankment, finally rolling into the Restigouche River.
Bissonnette and pilot Frédérick Décoste were killed in the crash, while a third passenger, Michel LaPlante, was transported to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Bissonnette and crew were in Caraquet, NB, for the weekend, flying over Saturday and coming back at the time of the accident. A selfie of the trio in the helicopter, taken on the way over, was posted to Bissonnette’s Instagram page.
Reports from the scene say that the helicopter hit right into power lines and caused an explosion, causing thousands of homes to lose power. The helicopter then hit the terrain and fell into the river, with pieces flying everywhere.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing.
Bissonnette was 35.
“No idea how I survived” – LaPlante
LaPlante was the only survivor of the crash. He doesn’t know how he survived.
“I’m so lucky to have no [serious injuries], and yet just in pain for losing two friends,” he told Le Soleil.
He suffered from cuts and bruises, but no broken bones and nothing life-threatening. He’s expected to be released from hospital in Campbellton to return to Quebec City.
LaPlante said the crash was like a bad dream and didn’t seem real. He remembers the “boom” of hitting the power lines, then waking up in the cockpit, underwater.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “I don’t know how I got out.
“I would love to be able to piece it all together, but I don’t know what happened right now.”
LaPlante was joining Bissonnette for a wedding in Caraquet on the weekend. He played at the reception and they went clam-digging.
“We had a great time; I met new friends, Bob played two new songs he was going to record on his next album, it was nice.” LaPlante said.
“I would take a few broken bones if it would save them.”
Hockey player turned singer
While you could be forgiven about forgetting Bissonnette’s QMJHL career as a serviceable offensive winger and captain of the Olympiques, and deadline pickup in 2001-02 for the Titan for a President’s Cup run, he attained a cult following in Quebec with his hockey-inspired songs.
“I remember he brought his guitar on road trips,” former teammate Frédérick Malette said. “At the start, guys laughed at him. His English wasn’t great, and neither was his guitar talent, but he was a showman. He loved the ambiance. He didn’t care if the chords were perfect.
“He had the ability to create special moments.”
Bissonnette released a debut album in 2010 called Recrue de l’année, or Rookie of the Year. He dropped two more, Les barbes des series, or Playoff Beards in 2012, and Rockstar in 2014. Remarkable about his music work is that all of his work was completely independent and outside of the music label-sphere.
He also toured the province of Quebec several times, playing songs about Chris Chelios, the Habs and the Leafs, stories about going to Europe to play as a scorer for hire, and even an ode to RDS personality Chantal Maccabée.
He had dates lined up for shows in Quebec for September, including Rouyn-Noranda, Val-d’Or, Victoriaville and Montreal.
Left his mark on and off the ice
Bissonnette was a fan favourite in Hull, now Gatineau, for his rough-and-tumble play and his offensive ability.
While wearing the black-and-grey of the Olympiques, he had more than 300 minutes in penalties twice, and was well on his way to a third before being traded to the Titan, where he piled up 130 minutes in 22 regular season games, with 49 in 13 in the playoffs.
He could put the puck in the net too, scoring 31 times in a 62 point effort, combining that with 381 minutes in penalties in 2000-01, flanked with weapons like Ales Hemsky and pint-sized Bruno Lemire.
Also on that team, acquired in mid-season from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, was Maxime Talbot, who looked up to Bissonnette as a leader and a friend.
In the message, Talbot says: “I would never have admitted it to you but I thought you were so cool, so tough. Hockey players don't cry, except for now and the day after you were traded from Hull to Bathurst and I found myself alone on the bench.
"I'm still waiting for a message from you to tell me it was a stunt, a joke, a media technique, a marketing strategy for your next show."
His former coach in Hull, Claude Julien, said that he was a great and loved teammate.
“He was a one of the most well-liked players that I’ve ever seen,” Julien said. “He was a guy who had the gift of keeping his teammates united in the room, and was always able to keep his teammates relaxed, especially in stressful situations. He was a great guy for a team.”
Former goalie coach of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Frédérick Malette was a teammate of Bissonnette’s with the Olympiques, and a friend.
“He had adrenaline and intensity,” he said. “He was a teammate loved by everyone. He went to war every day for his team.”
Bissonnette went to UQTR for a season, where he won the University Cup in Fredericton when the Patriotes beat the St. FX X-Men in the final. He had 21 points in 20 games for the Patriotes in his only season in university hockey.
He then moved to the Florida Everblades for a 13-game scoreless stint in 2003-04, and then to Quebec senior hockey, settling in Quebec City with a steady job as a sales agent for the Quebec Capitales baseball team.
Bissonnette worked his way up the ranks to own shares in the team at the time of his passing. LaPlante, the survivor of the crash, is president of the team.
The team’s director of sales, Bobby Baril, said that he never saw Bissonnette in a bad mood, and manager Patrick Scalabrini said he had a “joie de livre” that was contagious, according to CBC.
The Gatineau Olympiques have announced that their home-opening game on September 23 will be dedicated in memory of Bissonnette.