Chasing the Dream

“Never fear the distance between your dreams and reality”

1,628.8 Kilometres, Waterloo, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick, or the distance between Tristan De Jong’s hockey dream and reality. 

De Jong’s journey to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Moncton Wildcats is another example of player never giving up on the dream. 

Late Arrival

Tristan De Jong loves the game of hockey, he always has, but his path in the game started much later than other players. 

“I wasn’t brought up into the sport like most hockey players,” confessed De Jong. 

“I started skating when I was eight years old.”

“My interest in skating came from being around the rink to watch my younger sister figure skate,” admitted De Jong. 

 “I decided that year that I wanted to do more than just skate, and I picked up a stick not long after.” 

The rest as they say is history.

 “My first recollection of the game was learning the rules in my small hometown rink.” 

“All the new players would gather in a classroom to learn hockey. I was much bigger than the kids who were also starting out, but that’s how I got my start.” 

De Jong has always considered himself a student of the game. “I try to get the most out of video reviews and run-throughs of plays when on the ice,” explained De Jong.

The 19-year-old defencemen is quick to credit his family for unwavering support throughout his journey in the game. 

 “My grandpa coached my uncle during his minor hockey career so with their help along with my parents, I picked up the game extremely quick,” De Jong said proudly.

It only took De Jong one year of local recreational hockey before he made the jump to the top rep team at the novice level, he was well on his way in the game dreaming of hockey glory. 

De Jong’s late start in the game certainly didn’t derail his desire to be the best he could be, something that he still carries with him to this day.

From Junior B to the Q

From a late introduction to the game to the highest level of hockey he could play, Tristan De Jong’s hockey dreams were starting to align. 

De Jong believed he was taking all the right steps towards accomplishing his dream of one day playing in the Ontario Hockey League. 

The smooth skating skilled two-way defencemen was originally drafted by the Barrie Colts in the 10th Round, 200th overall in the 2016 OHL Entry Draft.

It may have looked liked a long shot for him to make it to the O, but all he ever wanted was an opportunity to show what he could do. 

That opportunity never came about. The dream was put on hold. 

All Tristan De Jong ever wanted at that point in his career was an opportunity.  An opportunity to prove he could play major junior hockey. 

De Jong would apply his craft in the Ontario Junior B ranks for two seasons waiting for an opportunity, one that he would take advantage of. 

On-Line

Thank goodness that GOJHL streamed their games online. That’s where Ismael Bilodeau first saw Tristan De Jong play.

Bilodeau had to wait for the end of the 2017-2018 season and the Montreal Meltdown to finally see the mobile defencemen play in person. 

It was well worth the wait. 

“Tristan was playing in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League for the St. Catharines Falacons when I first saw him play.” 

“As soon as I saw him, I noticed that he was a good skater and smart.” 

“I was confident he could play at the next level,” confessed Bilodeau. 

“Tristan is a really great kid, he really stood out at the Meltdown, we knew that he would be able to step up and play in the Q.” 

From the OHL to the QMJHL, De Jong’s dream of playing at the next level was about to come true. “They gave up early on Tristan,” Bilodeau said of the OHL.

“He just needed an opportunity and that’s what we gave him,” Bilodeau said proudly. 

“I was very grateful that the Moncton Wildcats organization took a chance on me inviting me to their training camp last year,” said De Jong.

“Upon my arrival, the staff was very accommodating and made sure I was taken care of. One of the first things I noticed was the community in Moncton; the people are very hospitable.”

“I was given the chance to showcase my abilities as a player and see how I fit in with the line up. I had a great camp and was very excited to get things going once I signed with the team.” 

De Jong’s character and personality was revealed very early in Wildcats Training Camp. 

“We had some problems with his released from Ontario, and he had to sit for the first two or three days. Tristan’s first game was the Red/White game, we knew we had found a great free agent.” 

Bilodeau believes there is definitely a learning curve for free agents entering into the QMJHL. 

“Free agents usually they need one year of adaptation.”

“Tristan handled it well, it’s a big jump from Junior B, but Tristan deserves all the credit for working so hard and adapting well to the league.”

Bilodeau now has a track record for finding free agents. 

The longtime Wildcats Scout also found newly signed top six forward Philippe Daoust, as for his diamond in the rough last season.

“Of course, I’m happy to see Tristan have success.” 

“Tristan deserves the most credit, he trained really hard the past two summers.” 

All of De Jong’s hard work paid off. 

“I felt myself getting more comfortable with the players and coaches as the year went along. At the start of the season, my main focus was adapting to the pace of a new league,” explained De Jong. 

“I settled into my role as a two-way defenceman.” 

The rookie rear-guard primary focus was on his own zone and keeping things simple early on in his tenor with the Cats. 

“I wanted to take care of my end first, and make the clear plays to get out of our zone.” 

“When needed, I would join the rush and try to contribute to the offense.”

The steady two-way defencemen had a solid rookie campaign scoring 4 goals, while adding 12 assists in 64 games. 

De Jong’s progression and development was extremely important for the Wildcats organization a season ago. The reliable defencemen saw his time on ice and role with the team skyrocket during the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. 

“I tried to bring leadership as a rookie in the room,” confessed De Jong. 

“I developed under good coaching and examples from the players around me. By playoffs, I felt like I could be relied on to execute our systems and help the team excel.” 

The Wildcats leaned heavily on the rookie during the President Cup Playoffs especially given key injuries and suspensions to their backend

“I did my best to fill into the role needed of me. Overall, I am very happy where I came from as a player last season,” admitted the well-spoken 19-year-old. 

So how did the rookie defencemen balance the nerves and performance a season ago? 

“In order to play at my best, I always try to stick to three key strengths that I have and can apply when I’m on the ice. Of course, every player tries to perfect as many things as they can. However, I do not try to be someone I’m not.” 

“If at any point I find myself struggling in a game, I reset on the bench, relax, and try to think of these core strengths I possess.” 

There’s no question Tristan De Jong is the student of the game. 

“I try not to over complicate my game, but rather stick to the identity I have as a player. I feel that attribute is the key to any player’s success.”

De Jong is a big proponent of visualization and also believed that played a big role in his success last season. 

Photo Credit Daniel St Louis

“It is proven that once you imagine yourself doing something right, your odds of executing increase. I like to take time out of the commotion in the locker room and visualize myself when I’m on the ice. It can be anything from me making the right pass, shooting when I have a lane, or performing a certain play that we practice as a team. That way, when these situations arise in a game, I feel more confident that I will do the right thing with the puck.”

A Freak Accident

There’s no question the Moncton Wildcats made no mistake when they took a chance and signed Tristan De Jong. It’s by accident that De Jong has had so much success in the QMJHL.

De Jong has embraced his unconventional journey to the QMJHL, but don’t think for a second the solid gritty two-way defencemen will ever take it for granted.  De Jong has returned for his sophomore season in phenomenal shape, but definitely had time to put things in perspective this summer. 

I had a freak accident this summer severing a tendon in my toe,” admitted De Jong.

De Jong was on the shelf for almost two months. “I still made the effort to get into the gym and work on other aspects of my body while on crutches. At times, it was tough and the injury took patience to overcome.”

De Jong credits Depth Training, a facility in his hometown for getting him so prepared for the start of season and over coming his injury. 

“I worked alongside many pro, junior and college players who have the same goals in hockey as I do.”

“The support group at Depth is second to none when dealing with the rehabilitation of hockey players, which comes with the nature of the sport. I was put on a program where I could work on movements that can be applied to hockey, even when seated. I focused on single-leg power, mobility, and core strength.” 

“Although this injury was a setback, I felt ready to get back to work once I recovered. I had to make up for the time I missed and took advantage of every chance I could get on the ice or in the gym. I put in extra work to get my foot speed back up to my standards.” 

High standards indeed.

“My one goal was to be ready going into camp. My hope was that I could go into camp and people wouldn’t even know that I was injured, but acknowledge the improvements I made in the offseason.” 

That’s certainly been the case so far early on in the 2019-2020 season. De Jong has had an outstanding training camp and appears to have gained a step and is noticeably more agile on his blades.

So what De Jong’s goals and expectations for this season? 

“After a year to adapt to the league, I am ready to make a bigger impact this year as a Wildcat.” 

“I was excited to see everyone at camp and be back with the returning players. I definitely felt more comfortable this year compared to being the new face from Ontario last year.” 

“I’m with familiar coaches and have a good idea of what they expect from me for the upcoming season. I was happy with my development and point production as a rookie in the league, but I’m not content.”

“I would like to continue to produce and create offense by getting more pucks to the net this year.” 

“I will strive to continue to build trust in my teammates and my coaches that I can execute the right plays. I want to be someone that can be relied on in pressure situations or special teams. Ultimately, I would like to continue my development as a player both on and off the ice. As one of the older guys in the room, I would like to bring some leadership and lead by example on the ice. I hope my contributions to the team can bring depth to the backend. I expect that we can make a great statement in the league this year and meet our goal of winning the Memorial Cup.” 

Hard work and dedication continues to be the cornerstone of Tristan De Jong’s journey in the game. 

Every Step of the Way

From his late start in the game, to his family helping him every step of the way Tristan De Jong life revolves around the one thing that matters most…..family. 

“I cannot fully express my appreciation for the support I’ve had from my family throughout my hockey career.” 

“With my sister figure skating full-time as well, my parents raised us in the rink. No matter the circumstance, I always had the gear to play and a ride to the rink or gym when I needed it.”

The sacrifices his family made to get him to this point in his career certainly isn’t lost on the 19-year-old defencemen. 

“One does not fully appreciate the sacrifice of their parents. They balance life with a job, taking care of the essential needs of their family, and doing all the extra to keep their kids happy. There was even a time where we commuted to a new city in order to provide me with the best opportunity and exposure in the later stages of my minor hockey career.”

“They taught me the key values I possess today, such as hard work and humility. When it comes to who I am as a player today, my parents have been there every step of the way.”

Home Away From Home

Life in major junior hockey is all about family. 

From the dressing room, to the ice, to the long bus trips and a new home away from home.  Moncton has become Tristan De Jong’s second home. 

The transition to a new city, a new province and a new family can be very stressful for players trying to maximize their performance. 

“With the move to Moncton, my family had to put their trust in a new family to watch over me. Billets can make all the difference when playing junior hockey.” 

“Outside of the boys in the room, they’re the family you go back to after every game.” “The Morrison’s made my transition from Ontario very comfortable. I am grateful that they accepted me into their home as one of their own.”

“They don’t do anything as a family without asking me if I would like to join, such as playing a game or going out to do something. They connect with my parents to make sure everything is set up to make me feel as if I’m home. For example, on my birthday they decorated my room as my mom would and got me my favourite cake.” 

Great Promise

1,628.8 Kilometres, Waterloo, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick, or the distance between Tristan De Jong’s hockey dream and reality. 

So what’s next for Tristan De Jong?  “After junior, the main goal is to continue playing hockey for as long as I can.” 

“I would eventually like to play pro and make a living playing hockey.  This may come before or after university, depending on how the next few years pan out,” explained De Jong. 

“I would also like to set up a future for myself, as everyone should have a backup plan. I have an interest in pursuing engineering when in school, and civil engineering or architecture are careers I see myself doing in the future.” 

“My dad is a construction worker and always promised that he would build anything I designed. If I could do both, and play hockey alongside a successful career, I would feel fulfilled as a person and a player.”

There’s no question Tristan De Jong’s career has great promise.

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