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Motivated by benching, Chabot becomes star defenceman for Sea Dogs

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After being challenged by his head coach early this season, Thomas Chabot has grown into a star two-way defenceman for the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Through two games of his sophomore Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season, Chabot was on the ice for four of the team's seven goals against, he was a minus-3, and he wasn't living up to coach Ross Yates's expectations.

Yates knew Chabot's family was going to travel to Saint John to take in the Sea Dogs' home opener, but he also recognized a need to curb 17-year-old's slipping defensive play before it became a problem.

"So I sat him out," said Yates, who's in his second season as head coach. "I said, 'We're not putting up with this again this year.'"

Yates hoped the wake-up call would light a fire beneath his promising sophomore, who was a minus-29 in 2013-14.

The move caught Chabot off guard, and at first, he was angry.

"I had to tell my family not to come. Everyone stayed home except my mom and dad. My grandparents, uncle, godfather, godmother (all stayed home)," says Chabot, who's listed at No. 15 among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting's 2015 midterm rankings.

After some self-reflection ? and a desire to prove to his coach wrong ? Chabot committed himself to becoming a complete player. He hit the gym harder, shaped up his defensive play, and began contributing at both ends of the ice.

"That's what I deserved from the way I played," he says. "I went back to work, worked even harder and in my head I wanted to show Ross that it was a bad move scratching me."

Both Yates and Chabot agree that it was a turning point for the six-foot-two, 181-pound native of Ste-Marie-de-Beauce, Que. Since being scratched, Chabot is a plus-10 and has racked up 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists).

He's also become an anchor on a young Sea Dogs blue-line that features five players in their 16- or 17-year-old season. Saint John's defence has four other players on the midterm rankings, including another probable first rounder in Jakub Zboril.

Zboril, who's been sidelined four weeks with a lower-body injury, has been equally key to the Sea Dogs' back-end success. He and Chabot share a smooth stride and that extra push when it comes to off-ice conditioning, but the similarities stop there.

The Czech-born 17-year-old, who's listed as the 11th best North American skater available, is considered tougher and more in-your-face than the offensively-minded Chabot.

"Scouts often ask me which player I would take, but it really depends on what you're looking for," Yates says.

In total, the Sea Dogs have nine players listed in the midterm rankings, more than any other team CHL team.

Among them are scoring forwards Adam Marsh (42nd) and Nathan Noel (55th), wingers Samuel Dove-McFalls (73rd) and Spencer Smallman (146th), and defencemen Jack Van Boekel (126th), Bailey Webster (148th), and Jason Bell (196th).

It's a roster packed with youth that has the Sea Dogs near the top of the Quebec League's Maritime Division for the first time since the 2011-12 season, when they won their second straight President's Cup. That team boasted NHLers Jonathan Huberdeau, Charlie Coyle and Tomas Jurco.

Those are big shoes to fill, said Chabot.

"I remember watching when they'd win almost every game," he says. "Maybe we don't have the same talent, but maybe we can do it the same as them."

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