CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Matt Duchene
proved that you can return to one's old stomping grounds again, even if his recent homecoming was a little bittersweet.
The Colorado Avalanche
rookie, a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy this season, spent nine days during the Olympics break coaching his former high school team and taking part in several charity functions in Haliburton, Ontario.
"It was a lot of fun seeing family and friends," said Duchene, who played hockey for two years for the Hal High Red Hawks before heading to the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League. "There are a lot of great memories and it was great to be in that atmosphere again."
Duchene, who was the third pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, practiced with the Red Hawks one day and did some coaching while behind the bench for two games with head coach Ron Yake and assistant Gary Brohman, who happens to be the school's principal.
"We won both games," said Duchene, who helped tutor the team's forwards. "During the games I just tried to offer any input I could. It's a different brand of hockey, so there are some things I learned (with the Avalanche) that I was showing the guys. I'm an offensive forward, so it's probably what I'm most natural with.
"I don't know how to coach defense too much," he added, laughing.
Duchene said he gained a new appreciation for fulltime coaches while viewing games from behind the bench and, in his spare time, while watching the Olympics on television.
"I didn't play (high school hockey) with any of them, but I grew up with them. My whole town is 1,500 people, so everyone knows everyone. No one was really into the autographs except for the younger kids. People my age treated me normal, which was great. I didn't want to go there and feel like all eyes were on me." -- Matt Duchene
"As a player, you're thinking about what you have to do (while sitting on the bench)," he said. "As a coach, you're standing back and watching and seeing the whole thing. Being higher up and standing on the bench, you see more of the play.
"Watching the Olympics, there were so many great players and you got to see what they all can do. It's the most hockey I've watched on TV this year. I watch games every once in a while, but because we're playing so much I don't really get the chance."
Duchene said "it was a little different" returning to his hometown as a rising NHL star, but he enjoyed "hanging out" with his childhood friends.
"I didn't play (high school hockey) with any of them, but I grew up with them," he said. "My whole town is 1,500 people, so everyone knows everyone. No one was really into the autographs except for the younger kids. People my age treated me normal, which was great. I didn't want to go there and feel like all eyes were on me."
Duchene's dad, Vince, helped arrange three autograph sessions for Matt with the local minor hockey association. All the proceeds went to the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto in memory of Dawson Hamilton, who lost his battle with chronic myeloid leukemia on Jan. 10, just 13 days before his 10th birthday.
"I flew back for the funeral," Matt Duchene
said. "He was a little guy that was really close to me. They did a lot of different autograph stuff for him during my junior career. When I went back, my dad had a lot of people calling and asking if they could get some stuff signed. My dad decided, instead of having people come over the house, which would be chaotic, he contacted the minor hockey association and they set up three autograph sessions at three different rinks in my hometown.
"We raised about $2,000 for the hospital in Dawson's name. It was great. We charged $3 and $5 for different pictures in different sizes, and all the proceeds went to Sick Kids Hospital."
Avalanche players visited The Children's Hospital in Denver before Christmas and took part in the Avs Better Halves annual charity brunch and fashion show last Sunday that included some of the hospital's patients.
These were especially poignant events for Duchene.
"Those kids are going through the same things as Dawson," he said. "It was a little bit hard for me because I was close to a kid like that and a lot of those kids ... their illnesses are (serious) and Dawson didn't make it. So it was a little tough for me.
"But they are great causes and it's always good to be able to help kids like that. It's always great to put a smile on a kid's face, especially someone who has a sickness like that."