MONTREAL – You’ve likely been told that judging someone at first glance isn’t necessarily the best way to go about things. Everyone who crossed paths with David Desharnais on his road to NHL stardom surely understands that now.
At 5-foot-7, Desharnais has always been among the smaller players in the game. Nevertheless, whether it was in the NHL, the AHL, the ECHL, the Junior ranks, or elsewhere, the Laurier-Station native has always managed to make his mark, even if the odds were stacked squarely against him.
“At every level, everybody said that he was too small and that he wouldn’t be able to secure a spot. In Junior, he stood out by being the best. He went to the ECHL with much bigger guys, and he was the best again. He did that everywhere he went. Everybody always said that it couldn’t be done,” offered Jean-Pierre Lamontagne, who proudly coached Desharnais in Atom CC in Lotbinière.
According to Deshanais, Lamontagne’s involvement in honing his game was key to his development, even if he was just 10 years old at time.
“He saw something special in me, even if I was on the smaller side and it was still pretty early in my career. But, he coached a lot of young player and he saw I had something special inside of me,” mentioned Desharnais, referencing Lamontagne’s work with the likes of former NHLer Philippe Boucher. “He didn’t say it to me right away. He told my parents, though.”
Desharnais’ former bench boss even set his sights on working with the talented forward long before the two ultimately came together in Atom.
“I was in charge of competitive hockey in the Lotbinière region. We’d been watching David since he was in Novice, right when he started out. We were looking at the young players coming up,” recalled Lamontagne, who scoured the area looking for top prospects. “He was a very noticeable player. First off, he was smaller than other players his age and he had exceptional talent. We’d say that the puck was pretty much glued to his stick and he had incredible vision. It showed, even back then. He was ahead of the game in those areas. He might have been shorter than other guys, but when it came to hockey, he was dominant out there.”
An exceptional passer at the NHL level, 70 percent of Desharnais’ points have come in the form of assists. It’s an aspect of the game the Canadiens’ No. 51 exceled at as a youngster, too. While most kids might focus solely on lighting the lamp and celebrating goals, Desharnais’ focus was primarily on celebrating his teammates’ tallies instead.
“David was timid as a kid. He was shy and he didn’t really have a presence in the locker room. He already had incredible talent. But, he didn’t just take the puck from one end of the rink to the other to score goals,” stressed Lamontagne. “He had his head up, looked around and dished the puck. He was pretty generous. He did everything he could to wear the other team down. All his teammates had to do was put the puck in the net. It was great to watch. Guys who play with David are going to look good and they’re going to have good seasons. He’s a gifted player.”
When it comes to describing Desharnais’ willingness to learn the intricacies of the game, Lamontagne says his former charge was an attentive student who was eager to improve his game every time he hit the ice.
“David was always there, always ready to learn. He was consistent. We could count on that. He was a team guy, who didn’t get ahead of himself. When we explained something, he got it right away. He paid close attention and he was always listening. He had talent and he knew it. But, he also executed what we told him to do,” shared Lamontagne, who has closely followed Desharnais’ career over the years. “That’s what’s made him the player he is today. He’s a humble and determined guy. I take my hat off to him.
“He’s a good example for our young kids in Lotbinière,” added Lamontagne, who still rubs shoulders with Desharnais’ parents at local rinks and parties, recalling many nights spent with the talented pivot’s father, Gilbert, and his accordion. “I’ve always had a good relationship with his parents. They’re still friends of mine today.”
If Desharnais remains grateful to Lamontagne for pushing him to become the pro he is now, he’s even more appreciative of the sacrifices his parents made on his behalf over the years.
“My parents were there through everything. They made sacrifices. They took me to the rink and they were there for games. They never forced me to do anything, and they were always there to support me. I owe them a lot. I think that’s the key,” confided Desharnais, who admits that his obstacle-laden road to the NHL helped in his developing a relatively thick skin. “When you don’t experience what failure’s like when you’re young and you get to the NHL level, it’s tougher to accept and deal with. It really helped me a lot.”
And today, Desharnais is among the Canadiens’ top point-getters, year after year.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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