Canada's Thomas Chabot carries the puck during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
NHL ambitions realized, grandmother happy
Defenceman Thomas Chabot is averaging 21:41 of ice time a game, by far the most of any Canadian.
In the exciting New Year’s Eve game against the United States, he was on the ice for nearly half the game (27:45 to be exact). He is the rock upon which the team’s defence is founded, and for good reason. Chabot is big and quick and moves the puck well.
Drafted 18th overall by Ottawa in 2015, he played in his first NHL game earlier this year before being sent back to junior.
“It was great,” he said of his NHL debut on October 18, 2016, a home game against Arizona in which he had 7:09 of ice time. “As a kid, I watched all of the Montreal Canadiens games. When I was five years old, I remember watching a game on TV with my grandmother, and I told her one day that’s going to be me on TV. To have the chance to play my first game was great for me and my family. My parents have sacrificed so much in their life for me and my brother, who played hockey, too. We travelled everywhere to play, so it was a way of saying thank you to my parents.”
Of course, the game was especially memorable for his grandmother. “She couldn’t make it to Ottawa that night but she watched the game on TV. It was great. Before the game I was thinking about her because I remember telling her one day that would be me on TV, so I was glad she was able to watch.”
Ever since he was old enough to understand what hockey is about, Chabot has dreamed about the game with his every thought.
“I have so many memories of watching Canada’s games with my parents when I was a kid,” he related. “I never missed a game, no matter what countries were playing. Even when games were in Europe, I’d wake up early to watch.”
Like many Canadians, one game stands high above all others, namely the semi-finals against Russia in Ottawa in 2009.
“The one I remember best was in Ottawa when Jordan Eberle tied the game with only a few seconds left,” he recalled. “And now to have the chance to be here and play for my country is amazing. I used to dream of playing and now I’m here. It’s even more special this year being on home ice.”
The Quebecker will be even closer to home now that Canada has moved to Montreal for the playoff round. Chabot was born in Ste. Marie-de-Beauce, just south of Quebec City.
“The first time I wore a Team Canada sweater was at the U18 World Championship in Switzerland. We all know what a big tournament that is for the players, and to be there was amazing wearing the maple leaf.”
Canada won bronze that year, and last year he was on the U20 team that finished a disappointing sixth. He’s here because after that NHL game the Senators sent him back to Saint John in the QMJHL.
“They didn’t tell me anything,” he explained of his training camp with the Sens. “I was trying to earn a spot on the team, but I have to give a lot of credit to the defencemen they have. They’ve done a great job, so I never really had a chance to make the team. Inside of me, I felt I could play on the team, but they’re having a good season so far, so I can’t complain. I’m happy to be back in Saint John. We have a great team there, and it’s given me the chance to be here for the World Juniors. Not a lot of guys have the chance to play, so it’s a real notch in my belt, so to speak.”
Make no mistake, though. The 19-year-old did everything in his power to make the team, and his ambitions have not been dulled by being sent back to junior.
“I went to Ottawa about six weeks before camp to skate with the guys,” he said, “so I was used to the pace. It’s really when I went back down to junior that I realized how fast the NHL is. Whether they’re on the first line or fourth line, they’re all so good.”
As for takeaways, he knows what he has to do to make it to Ottawa on a permanent basis.
“I think Ottawa was kind of worried about my defensive game, so I’m trying to work on that,” he explained. “Every time I step on the ice here it’s against the first or second line of the other team, so that’s great to be able to do that against the best under-20 players in the world. Being harder on the puck, harder in front of my net. That’s what I’m working on the most this year.”
The more he works on it, the more ice time he gets and the better off Canada is. Chabot will wind up in the NHL as a regular defenceman, of that there is no doubt. It’s all just a matter of time.