One shot, Or one opportunity, To seize everything you ever wanted, In one moment, Would you capture it, Or just let it slip?
Eminem’s famous lyrics certainly applies to Philippe Daoust’s journey in the game of hockey.
It’s cliche, but it’s so true.
“You have to make the most of an opportunity.”
That’s exactly what Barrie, Ontario’s Philippe Daoust has done in his short time in the QMJHL.
To be brutally honest no one knew who Philippe Daoust was or could do on the ice when his name appeared on the Moncton Wildcats Training Camp Roster.
Well no one except the Wildcats scouting staff and their Director of Hockey Operations Ritchie Thibeau.
As they say the rest is history, but the back story of how the undersized, highly skilled forward was first discovered by the Cats is truly remarkable.
The Early Years
You could say Philippe Daoust’s love and passion for the game of hockey came as naturally as his talent.
Hockey was a way of life for the Daoust family.
“I think Phil owes his introduction to hockey to his older brother Nikolas, more so than us,” said Carole Daoust, Philippe’s mother.
“Phil was dragged to the rink lobby at one week old for Nik’s 6am practices, and was on the ice at 2 years old, because by then, he had already watched his brother enough and was ready to go and try to keep up with him on skates as well,” explained his mother.
“Playing alongside his 2 foot taller, 8 year older brother certainly got him ready for the bigger bodies that he would come up against on the opposing teams for many years to come,” Philippe’s father Marcel Daoust said.
From idolizing his brother to honing his own skills on the family’s backyard rink, Dauost’s passion and relentless drive to be the best no matter what obstacles confronted him was one trait that his father noticed right away.
“I think it was seeing Phil’s determination on the ice, at a very young age that kind of hinted that he had what it takes to play the game competitively.”
“Phil was a good skater, had good hands, good vision, but his relentlessness to find a way to get to the puck first or come out with the puck when you wouldn’t think he could, is what set him apart from others,” explained Dauost’s father.
Natural skill and ability would propel Daoust to elite level hockey, nevertheless it was his work ethic and drive that set him apart even given his perceived shortcomings of physical strength and size.
Philippe Daoust has worked for everything he’s accomplished in the game and all he ever wanted was an opportunity to prove he could play.
The Blueprint to Success as a Late Bloomer
You just have to believe.
Self believe and confidence is everything, it’s a difference maker especially when others potentially cast you off as being too small.
Philippe Dauost has heard that his entire career.
You see Philippe Daoust never lost hope.
Never lost sight of his dream. It’s never work if you love what you do.
“When Phil was younger I don’t think he regarded what he was doing as work.”
“He loved every minute.”
“Phil was on the ice whether it was skills sessions, power skating or being on the backyard rink.”
“It all contributed to his development, but to him it was all considered playing. As he got older, his training and development sessions became his summer job.”
The summer before his minor midget year Daoust travelled two and half hours a day, everyday, to take advantage of an elite on and off ice training program that targeted his athletic developmental needs in effort to get prepared to play in the GTHL.
“The GTHL gave him a shot when other doors had closed for him. He was not going to waste that opportunity in a very important year and was willing to do anything,” recalled his father.
All the early morning workouts in the basement, meetings with consulting performance nutritionists, working with a strength coach, edge work and power skating specialists were starting to pay dividends.
People started to take notice of the highly skilled diminutive skinny kid that had tremendous skill, vision and instinct.
There was a rumour circulating around the start of Wildcats Training Camp in August that Daoust was only 95 pounds during in first year Midget.
“He was 100 or 105 pounds max and was like 5’4 to 5’5 at that time,” his father said proudly.
Small, incredibly skilled, composed and competitive, that’s Philippe Daoust and to this day he’s never let those attributes ever define him.
What does it mean to see their son have so much success?
“Like any parent who sees a child achieve a goal towards which he has worked so very hard, it brings a sense of relief and joy for sure, because you know that’s how he is feeling as well.”
“A year ago, he was playing with a last place Jr A team in Northern Ontario and couldn’t have imagined he would be in Moncton, in the Q a year later,” confessed Marcel and Carole Daoust.
“We are very grateful that Phil has been given this opportunity to pursue his dream.”
First Impressions Are Everything
“The first time I saw Philippe play, I was like I think I got something there,” said Moncton Wildcats Scout Ismael Bilodeau.
Bilodeau was impressed with Daoust’s skills, but it was the other intangibles that set him apart during those early viewings.
“I remember watching the night I found him, he was playing on one of the worst team in the league, but he was still working really hard shift after shift.”
It didn’t take Bilodeau to long to realize he had discovered another impact free agent similar to that of defenceman Tristan De Jong.
“I had seen Phil probably around ten to twelve games online over that time, every game I watched I saw good things,” Bilodeau said.
Obviously other scouts were doing their due diligence, so what steps did Bilodeau do make ensure Daoust and his family knew the Cats were serious.
“I was always in touch with Marcel, Philippe’s father last season,” Bilodeau said.
“We decided to invite Phil to the Montreal Meltdown Showcase on our free agent team, to get a live viewing. After the first game we knew that we had found a good player.”
You could say Bilodeau and the Wildcats are now two for two in the last two seasons landing key free agents.
Two for two, with two homeruns.
Nevertheless, Bilodeau is quick to downplay his role in Daoust’s success at the QMJHL level.
“Personally, I’m just happy for him,” Bilodeau said of Daoust’s success this season.
“It couldn’t happen to a better person, Philippe is a really good kid.”
“He’s smart and he wants to learn and progress in the game.”
“Every time he touches the ice, he’s progressing. Philippe has come a long way and he deserved all the credit for everything that his happening to him.”
“Ismael changed Phil’s life and we are so thankful for that,” Marcel Daoust said.
“I didn’t changed Phil’s life, they changed it by themselves,” said a reflective Bilodeau.
“They trusted me at the beginning.”
“They trusted the process, and they Moncton Wildcats Organization. They could have chosen the Ontario Hockey League easily over us, but they chose to try the Q route.”
“We believed in Phil since Day 1,” explained Bilodeau.
Bilodeau believes the sky is the limit for the Barrie, Ontario product.
In 45 games this season Daoust has 6 goals and 17 assists with most of those points coming within the last month and half.
Daoust has been on a tear centering the Cats 3rd line with Elliot Desnoyers and Jacob Hudson.
“Phil combines hockey sense and very good puck skills with a great work ethic to be successful in this league,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations Ritchie Thibeau.
“As Phil was going through the adjustment period in the first half of the season his great attitude provided a solid foundation for him to grow as a player and he is seeing the fruits of his work now, and he’s contributing in all aspects of the game for our team,” Thibeau said.
Daoust has flourished under Wildcats Head Coach Daniel Lacroix.
Lacriox gave Daoust the opportunity to play through the middle which was a difference maker.
The progression in his game from Training Camp to now has been extraordinary, but everyone that truly appreciates talent understands almost immediately what Daoust brings to the game.
“Phil has come a long way this season, especially since Christmas break,” said Wildcats Asst Coach Ryan Salvis.
“It took him a little while to get used to the pace in major junior, but he’s showing now on a nightly basis just how skilled and creative he is.”
“Phil has great vision and offensive instinct with the puck and he’s very tough to check so his possession game is a big strength,” explained Salvis.
“If you look at his trajectory right now, it’s hard to project where he’ll be in a few years.”
“He has skills that are very hard to teach and he seems to really love the game so the commitment is there,” Salvis said.
“If Phil continues to put in the work he could be a classic example of a late bloomer who ends of having a great professional career,” stressed Salvis.
Going the Distance
“It’s a long road to Major Junior hockey,” Philippe Daoust said.
1,612.5 KM to be exact.
Barrie, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick, 1,612.5 Km or the distance between Philippe Daoust’s dreams and reality.
All Philippe Daoust ever wanted was a chance, an opportunity, to once and for all prove he could play in the CHL.
That opportunity finally came when the Moncton Wildcats invited him to their camp.
It’s hockey, so there’s no guarantees, but at least he was in the fight.
“I am just so grateful that the Wildcats took a chance on me,” confessed the quiet well spoken eighteen year old free agent.
“It’s a long road and I took a few detours,” stressed Dauost.
Daoust didn’t let adversity in his home province effect his journey in the game.
“I didn’t get drafted in the O in Minor Midget, which is why this means so much to me.”
“To have a few people who know a lot about hockey, think that I can compete alongside other players in this league, is very rewarding,” admitted Daoust.
The free agents early struggles in the QMJHL are well documented, but those growing pains have given way to amazing progression.
You see Philippe Dauost has never given up, never deviated from his dream.
“It just reminds me to never give up and that when a door closes another one opens,” Dauost said of how far he has come.
“I am just really grateful for the opportunity to keep playing competitive hockey.”
Daoust, the ultimate team player is quick to deflect the notion of having a big impact so far with the Cats.
“I don’t know that I am having an impact really,” he said.
“I’m just trying to help a very good team in any way I can, in any way they ask me too.”
“We have a very deep pool of talent, so I just want to execute the role they ask of me,” Daoust added. “Whether it’s adding depth on a 3rd line that seems to connect well right now and play a solid two-way game, or defend responsibly on the PK, I just want to be able to step up and help the team achieve its goal of winning a couple of cups,” stressed Daoust.
With all the personal success and new found attention how has Dauost stayed focused and what aspects of his game is he continually working on?
“I feel at this level, I need to work on every aspect of my game continually, because it’s so competitive,” Daoust said.
“I do want to pay more attention to my game away from the puck. I just find I have to be responsible all the time, like at both ends of the ice and everywhere in between to be effective here,” explained Dauost.
Daoust has shown an amazing ability to adapt, learn and excel during his brief time in the QMJHL.
“I do need to put on weight and get stronger just to help me be even stronger in puck battles and in corners,” Daoust admitted.
As far as puck battles is concerned Wildcats Head Coach Daniel Lacriox has given the free agent forwards trio a lot of responsibility especially late in periods, a true sign of a coaches trust.
Daoust’s line which consists of Jacob Hudson and Elliot Desnoyers have been exceptional since its inception early in January.
There’s no question Lacriox’s ability to instil confidence within his players is certainly one of his strongest attributes.
What role does Daoust feel Lacroix has played in his recent success?
“I think Dan came in at a time when I was just getting more comfortable with the game at this level.”
“His arrival gave me a fresh start,” confessed Dauost.
“By putting me out there in certain situations, showing that he trusts me, and surrounding me with good players, it only gives me more confidence.”
“Like most players, I think I play better when I am confident. Dan is very good at communicating what he wants and expects from his players and from the team, so it makes it easier to buy into it and execute it,” a reflective Daoust said.
As of right Philippe Dauost has been rumoured to have met with five to six NHL teams.
Who would have thought, from NOJHL, to the QMJHL, to potentially the NHL?
Anything is possible when you take advantage of an opportunity.