Prospect Audette puts father's lessons to useby Mike G. Morreale
The memories of the first home game in the history of the Sherbrooke Phoenix of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League remain vivid in the mind of forward Daniel Audette.
It was Sept. 21, 2012, in front of 4,005 fans at the Palais des Sports Leopold-Drolet.
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"It was our first home game and first game of the season; the crowd was amazing," Audette said. "It was a full rink and I still remember skating out onto the ice to that ovation. We lost the game [5-1], but it was an unforgettable experience."
Audette didn't register a point, but did generate two shots, had one hit and won 11 of 16 faceoffs. He finished his rookie season with 10 goals and 29 points in 54 games as the expansion Phoenix went 21-38-9.
Making it extra special was the fact Audette also had been the first pick by the Phoenix in the QMJHL draft in June 2012. At the time he was considered a lock for the top choice by many league scouts.
"He's the most talented player in the draft," QMJHL director of scouting Pierre Leduc told the media at the time. "When you want a goal on the power play or at the end of the game, this is the guy you want. He's the easy choice for No. 1."
Audette, who played for Team Cherry at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 15 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, now is making headway with NHL scouts prior to the 2014 NHL Draft, to be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
As the son of forward Donald Audette, who had 260 goals in 735 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers, the younger Audette has an idea what it takes to be successful.
"He told me that you always have to work harder than everyone if you want to have a career in hockey because everyone wants to play hockey, but not everyone gives all the effort," he said. "He taught me that you have to give it your all every night."
That advice apparently has struck a chord with the 5-foot-8, 177-pound left-shot center this season as he leads Sherbrooke in assists (50), points (67) and faceoff wins (501) through 56 games. Audette is No. 59 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2014 draft.
"He's a skilled offensive player with good awareness and smarts distributing the puck," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He's poised and clever and can create scoring chances; he's quick to take advantage of opportunities. He's got a very good shot, and is able to handle himself well in battles and can skate the puck through traffic."
Marr considers Audette similar to Canadiens center David Desharnais, who spent four seasons in the QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens before embarking on his professional career.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Audette has Canadian and American citizenship. He turned down an opportunity to join the United States National Team Development Program in order to begin his hockey career in the QMJHL. It's the same league his father played in for three seasons with the Laval Titan in the late 1980s.
Prior to joining Sherbrooke, Audette had 25 goals, 35 assists and 57 penalty minutes in 39 games playing midget hockey for Esther-Blondin College in Quebec in 2011-12.
"I just try and work hard all the time," Audette said. "You really can't take a day off. You would want your teammates to work like that so that's what you have to do to set the tone."
Audette was asked what surprises him most when watching video of his father play in the NHL.
"He had a lot of grit," he said. "He would just work so hard on the ice. He would want the puck a lot and he'd shoot the puck a lot too.
"The thing I remember most growing up was spending time in the Montreal Canadiens locker room. There was just something about it, being in the room with the guys and just seeing my dad and his teammates. It seemed like an amazing lifestyle and looked like a lot of fun."
Audette's most memorable hockey moment to this point was helping Canada win the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament last August; he had one goal and three points in five games. It was Canada's sixth straight gold medal at the summer under-18 tournament, which is co-hosted by the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
"That was an amazing feat," Audette said. "Just being a part of the team was crazy because there were a bunch of good players on the team and you learn a lot. Representing your country is always amazing. Since you were a little kid that's something you always want to do and I was fortunate that it happened to me."