A change of scenery is a phrase often tossed around with reckless abandon, but in a sense, Blue Jackets
prospect Michael Chaput
got two of them within the course of a year.
His original junior hockey club, the Lewiston MAINEiacs
, was only the second team in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)
history to operate in the United States. After eight seasons of business and nothing but losses to report, the league made the difficult decision to purchase the club from then-owner Mark Just and fold the franchise.
That was May 31, 2011 - a day Chaput and his teammates will never forget. They were well-known and beloved figures in small-town Lewiston, which rallied around the hockey club and witnessed a President’s Cup championship in 2007. But the MAINEiacs run came to an end, and as a result, Chaput was claimed in the dispersal draft by the Shawinigan Cataractes
a few months later. “When we heard the team in Lewiston was going away, it wasn’t fun for anyone,”
Chaput told BlueJackets.com
. “We had a great group of guys there and we had a good team and liked playing there."“When I got picked up by Shawinigan, I was really happy to go there and was excited because they would be hosting the Memorial Cup (this year). We have a great team here, and the transition was easier for me because I’m playing with two of my teammates from Lewiston last year, Kirill Kabanov and Pierre-Olivier Morin.”
Chaput was acquired by the Blue Jackets from the Philadelphia Flyers
in exchange for Tom Sestito
on February 28, 2011. He was in the midst of a stellar 2010-11 campaign, in which he put up 25 goals and 59 points in 62 games for Lewiston in the regular season.
He was a clutch performer in the QMJHL playoffs, as well: Chaput scored 20 points in 13 postseason contests as the MAINEiacs made it to the semifinals before losing out to Saint John
, the eventual Memorial Cup champion.“It was exciting and nervous at the same time, but I tried not to be bothered by it when it happened,” Chaput said of the trade which sent his rights to Columbus. “You get traded all the time in hockey and I tried to focus on my season and the playoffs that were coming up. I didn’t get bothered by it too much at the time.
“When I talked to the Blue Jackets, they told me they tried to draft me but it didn’t happen. They were excited to have the chance to trade for me and that’s what you want as a player. I was excited to go there, too.”
In what is likely to be his final season of junior hockey, Chaput and his Shawinigan teammates have been given a second chance. The Cataractes won 45 games in the regular season and earned 97 points, solidifying second place in the league behind Saint John. They stormed into the playoffs and swept first-round opponent Rouyn-Noranda
(outscoring them 22-8), but ran into red-hot Chicoutimi
in the second round.
Shawinigan’s bid for the President’s Cup ended in a thrilling seven-game series against Chicoutimi, but as the host city for the MasterCard Memorial Cup, it is granted an automatic bid into the four-team tournament.“We were really disappointed to not still be there in the playoffs,” Chaput said. “We had a great regular season and a tough series against Chicoutimi. But it doesn’t happen every day you get a second chance in hockey. We’re going to do our best and try to take the opportunity and make the best of it.”
The Memorial Cup doesn’t begin until May 17 at Centre Bionest in Shawinigan, but Chaput has had plenty on his plate. Contract negotiations opened with Columbus during the QMJHL playoffs, and then after the Cataractes fell in Game 4 to the Sea Dogs, the negotiations got serious. With his professional career looming in the near future, Chaput inked his three-year, entry level contract on April 28.
As Chaput sees it, the contract is only the first step toward achieving a lifelong goal.“I was very excited when I signed the contract with Columbus,”
Chaput said. “But I’m not fully embracing it right now because I haven’t made it to the NHL yet. I’ve made the first step, but the dream is not yet accomplished."“I’m really happy, for sure, but there’s still a lot work to be put in for me.”
In the meantime, it’s back to business with the Cataractes in preparation for the Memorial Cup. Shawinigan has never won the President’s Cup to automatically qualify for the tournament, but did host back in 1985. That edition of the Shawinigan club won its semifinal contest, but ended up losing to the Prince Albert Raiders in the championship game.
An offseason geared toward personal improvement translated into a career year for Chaput, as he finished second in scoring on the Cataractes with 21 goals and 42 assists in 57 games. He wanted to get stronger on the puck and be a physical presence down low in the offensive zone, and it paid off this year. “Every summer, you go back and look at what you need to get better at for the next season, and really keep pushing hard at it,” Chaput said. “(Those things) are what I put a lot of work into on a personal level. It was a great year for me but there’s still more to go."
“We want to win the Memorial Cup, and right now, that’s why we’re practicing hard every day to get better.”TOP HEADLINES
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