I grew up in a family of 13 kids in Ste-Foy, Quebec. I skated for the first time when I was 4 yrs. old and my older sister took me skating on a pond with a pair of double blades’ skates. When I was 6 yrs. old my older brother convinced me to register in a youth hockey league although I wasn’t interested at first.
As far as I can remember I always played in the defense although I wanted to try being a goalie but my coach wouldn’t let me try because I was a good backward skater.
I was lucky to live close to the rink, and from a very young age, probably 10 or younger, I would walk to the rink by myself with my bag over my shoulders even when we had 6am practices. Some of the best memories I have growing up about hockey is playing on outdoor rinks. Every parish in the city of Ste-Foy had their outdoor rinks with boards and nets that were maintained by city employees and free for everyone to use.
We would divide the teams by throwing all the sticks at center ice and then someone would throw sticks toward each ends and that’s how teams were made. I spent a lot of hours playing outside and froze my feet many times.
I remember once my uncle asking me what I wanted to do when I got older and I answered, “a hockey player”. He responded by saying “you better go to school kid”. I was offended by his answer for not believing in me but I now realize he was just trying to give me sound advice and he knew how hard it is to make it a career.
I started watching hockey on TV at the age of 10 with the 1976 Canada Cup. My favorite player then was Canada’s goalie, Roggie Vachon who later noticed me and was LA’s GM when I signed my first NHL contract. My favorite players growing up were Brad Park from the Boston Bruins and Larry Robinson from the Montreal Canadians both defenseman. I also idolized Guy Lafleur of the Montreal Canadians and later on, Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques.
When I was 15 years old, hockey became intense when I made a midget AAA team “les gouverneurs de Ste-Foy”. It was a very hard team to make which drew from all of eastern Quebec a huge territory. We had a 48 games schedule and practiced 4 times a week it was a very good league.
I was very proud to have made the team although I was a 7th defenseman and hardly saw any ice time. Our star players my first year were Patrick Roy and Sylvain Cote. My 2nd year I became a regular and saw a lot more ice time. Both years we made it to the National Championship.
At that age I would’ve liked to have been recruited by American Universities because I valued education. I personally wrote to 8 to 10 US Colleges with the best English I could come up with and received answers from a lot of them but none were offering a lot of scholarship money. Subsequently I got drafted by “les Castors De St- Jean” of the QMJHL in 3rd round which was higher than I was expecting. So I decided to go play junior hockey. At age 17 I left home to play junior hockey in St-Jean Sur Le Richelieu, 2 1/2 hours away from home.
I played 3 years of junior hockey for the same team. My second year for “les Castors” I was involved in a lot of scraps mostly because my team was targeted as being soft and I refused to back down from anyone although I wasn’t looking for it. Having to defend myself made me a tougher competitor and gave me more confidence on ice.
One day I had a very good game in front of Rogie Vachon, GM of the LA Kings who was in the attendance to watch the opposing goalie. I caught his eyes and he sent his scouts to watch me play the rest of the year.
Even though the Kings didn’t promise me they were going to draft me I was confident they would. It was very devastating when after driving to the NHL draft in Toronto with my family and some friends and waiting desperately for my name to be mentioned on the loud speaker that it never happened.
I never got drafted but the LA Kings invited me to their training camp which was held in Victoria BC. I went to camp and remembered playing really well but being extremely nervous at the same time. That nervous energy got me to play well enough that the Kings offered me a contract before releasing me to go back to my junior team.
I remember walking inside the rink on my way to my meeting with the coaches when I saw the team’s minor league coach Robbie Ftorek who told me that I was about to receive great news. I walked in the office and coach Pat Quinn and GM Rogie Vachon confirmed the news. It was a very proud moment in my life to leave training camp (after arriving as a walk-on) with a contract offer.
At 20 years old I started my pro career with the Flint Spirits of the international hockey league the 3rd affiliate of the Kings. I was the only French player on the team and my English speaking abilities were limited.
My 2nd year I played in New Haven, CT for the Kings affiliate and at the end of that year I received the call that every minor league player dream about. The Kings were decimated with injuries and needed defenseman. I played my first NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks and their star player Denis Savard at the LA Forum.
I will always remember how before the game some of the players like Dave Taylor, Bob Bourne, Luc Robitaille, Steve Duchesne and others came to shake my hand and wish me good luck. It was a very classy gesture on their part, one that I never forgot.
At the end of that game against Chicago I got into a fight with a fellow player from the Quebec league name Everett Sanipass. The fight was mostly a wrestling match with no one being able to land any serious blow until the end of the fight where I was able to get my right arm free and throw a punch at him while yanking his jersey down with my left hand at the same time.
He lost his balance, which made it look like I one punched him resulting in me receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Everett gave me a little smile as to say you got me. I was sent to the locker room where, I was greeted by Larry Playfair the Kings enforcer who was watching the game on TV in the dressing room due to an injury. He gave me a big hand shake with a “great job Kid”.