MONTREAL - Their son might reside just over 150 kilometers from home, but for the Danault family it really is like Phillip is living right next door to them.
And, they have good reason to believe that.
What does 166 kilometers represent? About a 90-minute drive, a quarter of a tank of gas, three dozen songs on a "Road Trip" playlist and maybe one stop for a quick bathroom break along the way.
For Phillip Danault - a Victoriaville native - that isn't far at all. Residing in Montreal is essentially like being at home. His father Alain, mother Michelle, and sister Ann-Andree are ecstatic to be able to spend quality time with him at will these days following his departure for Chicago several years ago.
"Last year, it was pretty funny. Around Easter, one Sunday night, he came down to our house in Victoriaville for dinner. We never thought that would be possible," recalled Mr. Danault, who is the general manager at both the Victoriaville Golf Club and the Laurier Golf Club as well. "It was special to have our son with us at home during the hockey season. That's the type of thing that we'll do again and again. We'll go back and forth to Montreal and vice-versa."
In Alain's eyes, Phillip's return to Quebec actually marks the second time he's managed to make his way back onto home turf.
"At 15, Phillip left home to play Midget AAA in Trois-Rivieres because in our region players of that caliber suited up for the Estacades. He left at 15 to live with a family there and do his schooling there, too. At that time, my wife Michelle and I thought that he was gone for good. We started to just accept it," explained Mr. Danault, who attended the QMJHL Draft in Moncton that year along with the rest of the family.
It was at that moment that the Danault family was reunited for the first time.
"Phillip was ranked 29th on the league's central scouting list, which meant that he was going in the second round. The Victoriaville Tigres had the ninth-overall pick in the first round, but they didn't have a pick in the second. So, we told ourselves that by the time the third round came along, he already would have been selected. We didn't think that he'd go so early," recalled Mr. Danault. "Jerome Mesonero [the Tigres' general manager at the time] took that chance. We were there. I still remember it today. We were shocked. We were so happy to know that our son was going to be back under our roof for three or four years. We had a chance to spend more time with him than expected."
That's how Danault, the young man who learned how to skate at his uncle's place at the age of three, returned home for the first time. Interestingly enough, Mathieu Garon, then a goaltender for the Tigres, was being billeted at Danault's uncle's home, too.
"Playing at home was special for Phillip. It put some added pressure on him, pressure that was good for him back then and that's still good for him now. With the Canadiens, it's the same thing. He's playing at home," explained Mr. Danault, who was the public address announcer for the Tigres at the Colisee Desjardins for 19 seasons. "Phillip and I talk hockey often. After games, Phillip definitely asked me for my opinion. We had the advantage of being able to see each other's reactions and expressions. That doesn't happen over the phone. His mom made him his favorite comfort food after games, cheese on toast. It changed everything to have him at home."
Then came the NHL Draft and Phillip's departure for the Windy City, two moments that really stand out for Mr. Danault when he thinks about his son's young career.
"The NHL Draft really stands out. It was the culmination of all of Phillip's hard work. Then, there was his first game with the Blackhawks. It was in Edmonton. We were there and I'll never forget that moment," explained Mr. Danault, before moving on to another more recent memory. "The third best moment up until this point is definitely when he was traded to the Canadiens last February. We were quietly watching TV when we learned that Phillip was going to be playing for the team we cherish the most."
When Alain finally had the opportunity to speak to his son on a video call, the two men just silently looked at one another for a few seconds before speaking.
"We were both in a state of shock. There were a few seconds of silence. He didn't know whether he should be happy or not," recalled Mr. Danault, a Canadiens fan from the start. "Then, I told him just how incredible I thought it was that he was coming home. It was the second time we'd experienced that. We thought he was gone, and then he was coming back again."
For Phillip Danault, being traded to the Canadiens really was the realization of a childhood dream. The same can be said for his father, too. Despite the fact that they resided a little bit closer to Quebec City than Montreal, the Danault family has always had the CH tattooed on their collective hearts.
"His heart has always been with the Montreal Canadiens. He never had to pick between the Canadiens and the Nordiques because he didn't experience that rivalry. During the holiday season, though, I was the one who was arguing with the Nordiques fans," explained Mr. Danault, whose son was born in 1993, two years before the Nordiques left for Colorado. "When you realize that your son will play on the same team that Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau and Guy Lafleur did at one point in time, it's simply incredible."