Sauve’s Saint John Sea Dogs visited the Robert-Guertin Arena to play the Gatineau Olympiques this week, and with the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championships in Ottawa just over a month away, the nation’s capital was ever present in his mind.
But before he has the opportunity to fight for his spot on Canada’s team, first Sauve must prove his worth on Quebec’s team. For the third time, Vancouver’s second round draft-pick in last summer’s draft will be representing the QMJHL in the Canada-Russia Challenge next week.
“I’m excited for sure, hopefully I can play well there and show the scouts for Team Canada that I can play on their team,” said Sauve after his Sea Dogs’ 3-2 victory over the Gatineau Olympiques.
And while the Canada-Russia Challenge will be a prime opportunity for Sauve to make an impression, Hockey Canada’s scouting process is already well underway. Al Murray, Hockey Canada’s Head Scout, was in attendance Wednesday to see Sauve in action. And the Rigaud, Que. native is well aware of the attention he’s receiving.
“For sure it’s been in my head. When it’s time for the Canada-Russia Challenge and the World Juniors I’ll focus on that, but right now I just have to put the team first, keep it simple and play my game here.”
So far this season, Sauve’s done just that.
Playing on the first penalty killing unit alongside Sea Dogs’ captain and Pittsburgh Penguins draft-pick Alex Grant, Sauve’s been a force on the back-end just as advertised. The physical defenceman, who had Olympiques players taking runs at him throughout Wednesday’s affair, has also improved his offensive game, already recording more than half the points he did in all of last season.
“I think that comes with the confidence,” said the former first overall selection in the QMJHL Bantam Draft, who now has 11 points in 18 games played. “When you know what your job is, and when you do your job defensively, it’s easier to make some good plays offensively and put some pucks in the net. I’ve been pretty successful with that so far so hopefully I can keep it up.”
Sea Dogs’ head coach Jacques Beaulieu agrees that Sauve’s play has been stellar thus far.
“We’re very happy with where he is right now,” said Beaulieu, who is also the team’s General Manager. “He’s a stand-up guy, he plays very well defensively and he’s started to pitch in offensively. All around, he’s been very solid for us.”
Beaulieu suggests that Sauve’s coachability has allowed him to make vast improvements in his game.
“He listens, he’s a sponge, he’s always asking questions, and he likes to do a lot of videos with us. He always checks his shifts out so he’s a student of the game.”
And according to Beaulieu, the 18-year-old’s rapidly increasing maturity is starting to reflect on the ice.
“He’s growing up; he’s becoming a man and learning how to play the game the right way. Every year he seems to be getting better.”
Beaulieu isn’t the only one who’s pleased with Sauve’s play this season, however. Vancouver Canucks Director of Player Development Dave Gagner has also been checking in on a regular basis, and is happy with Sauve’s development at this point in the season. This past summer, Sauve spent two weeks at Dave Gagner’s training facility in London, Ontario prior to attending prospects camp in Vancouver. When asked what the biggest thing he learned at his first professional training camp was, Sauve’s response was almost instant.
“Not to panic,” he said with a fearful chuckle. “The players are so good there so I learned that I just have to play a good game, just be confident and don’t panic with the puck.”
Sauve added that he’s been working on getting to the puck quicker and making better decisions this season in Saint John, two elements which the Canucks organization singled out as facets of his game with room for improvement.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Sauve would like to use what he's learned to raise his game to yet another level.
“I just want to be dominant out there. Throw some big hits, make some good passes and just play my game. “
And while his focus remains on the Saint John Sea Dogs, Sauve would seize the opportunity to represent Canada in next month’s World Junior Championships on home soil. But he also realizes that this won’t come easy.
“It’s always a pleasure to represent our country. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. I want to have a good camp there and show everyone what I can do.” Farhan Devji is the author of a hockey-based novel, The Hockey Farmer.