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Chance of a lifetime

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Being traded to the Canadiens in late February caught Phillip Danault by surprise, but shock quickly gave way to incredible pride and excitement.

After all, the 23-year-old was coming back to ply his trade on home soil where he’d enjoyed so much success in his native Victoriaville throughout his four-year QMJHL career that also included a brief stop in Moncton, NB.

He’d also be surrounded by his family and friends on a full-time basis for the first time since joining the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford, IL for the duration of the 2013-14 campaign once his playing days in “The Q” were done.

Having that support system really eased Danault’s transition back home along following an extended stay in the Prairie State that wrapped up just five weeks ago.

“They’ve been great for me. My father, [Alain], my mother, [Michelle] and my sister [Ann-Andree], have always been there through everything – all the games and tournaments. My girlfriend, too. It’s amazing. I’m sure they really love what’s happening right now with me being back home. We’re a really close family, so it’s great to have their support. I think it’s the most important thing in the world,” said Danault, who was selected 26th overall by the Blackhawks back in 2011.

“I always have people coming to the Bell Centre for games from Victoriaville and other cities close by to Montreal. It’s nice. I’m not paying for every single ticket, though. That would eat up my entire paycheck,” added the Canadiens’ No. 24 with a laugh. “But, I can’t thank them all enough for their help. They’re all so important. They’ve helped me stay humble and calm after the move.”

Family and friends aside, Danault was also reunited with Marc Bergevin, who had been promoted to assistant general manager in Chicago just over a week before the Blackhawks made the Junior standout their second pick in the opening round of the NHL Draft in Minnesota. The fact that Bergevin sought out his services in exchange for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann certainly wasn’t lost on Danault once the deal was done.

“It’s a special relationship Marc and I have. I know he’s the guy who really pushed to draft me as a first-rounder. He really wanted me. He really believed in me and my capacity to be a solid two-way player at center or on the wing. It’s an honour to play for him now that I’m in the NHL. When a GM trusts you like that, it’s very big. Mentally, it’s huge. I’m glad he was able to get me. It’s a big sign of respect,” said Danault, who credits Bergevin with helping him along early on in the Blackhawks organization before taking the job in Montreal in May 2012.

“I was only 18 when I got to Chicago. He was the guy who really helped me the most. He told me to text him if I needed anything at all. Once he left, I wanted to stay in touch with him, but it was tough with him being with another team. Now, we’re together. I knew he wanted to get me again, I just didn’t know when. It was a great feeling when it happened,” continued Danault, who has three goals and five points in 17 games since debuting with the Canadiens on February 27.

To say that Danault is committed to proving Bergevin right for bringing him on board would be an understatement. He arrived in Montreal eager to put the lessons learned in Rockford and Chicago alike to good use all season long, especially come playoff time. While the Canadiens won’t be playing postseason hockey this year, when they do manage to get there again, Danault will be ready and willing to chip in.

“I haven’t played in the [NHL] playoffs yet, but being with the Black Aces for the Stanley Cup run last year taught me a lot. Most importantly, you learn how to win. Seeing guys like [Jonathan] Toews and [Duncan] Keith battle like that teaches you that it’s never over in the playoffs. You’re never out of it. I’m just trying to follow the path they took there in Chicago and bring it here,” said Danault, a key contributor to the IceHogs’ first playoff series win since 2007-08 last season in a three-game sweep over the Texas Stars in round one. “It was one of the best times of my life. I didn’t win the Cup, but I was there on the ice with the guys at the United Center last June. I got a taste of it a little bit. That made me hungrier than ever to get it myself. I want to lift it one day. It’s a big dream.”

Two months after celebrating the Blackhawks’ sixth Stanley Cup title in franchise history – and their third triumph in the last five years – Danault elected to go under the knife in New York City to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. That sidelined him until early December, when he finally returned to Rockford’s lineup before being called up to join Joel Quenneville’s contingent for the long haul after centerman Marcus Kruger went down with a wrist injury.

It marked the start of Danault’s first real stint in the NHL ranks – and he hasn’t played an AHL game since. He’ll always be grateful to the Blackhawks for affording him the opportunity to be an NHL regular, and he’s committed to maintaining that same status and being a productive member of the Canadiens for years to come.

“I’m proud to be here. I watched the Canadiens growing up, and my father took me to my first NHL game at the Bell Centre when I was 10. It’s an honour to be here and to wear that crest on my chest. It’s a big accomplishment,” concluded Danault, a life-long fan of Saku Koivu for his skill, determination and courage to overcome adversity. “But, it’s just the start of something. I want to do bigger things with this group. I’ve got to keep going. This is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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