He was barely old enough to tie his own skates when his father laced up for the Montreal Canadiens, but Daniel Audette still remembers exactly what it was like in the historic home of the storied franchise. Daniel has fond memories of the time he spent at the rink with his father Donald, who played parts of three seasons with the Canadiens as part of a lengthy NHL career spanning 14 years.
“It was a lot of fun following him around while he was playing,” the younger Audette said of his father, who retired in 2004. “I got to go with him in the hockey rooms and see what it’s like to be in the pros.”
Daniel, now a forward for the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, has tallied 10 points in 25 games and will make his second appearance for Quebec at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge when the tournament faces off in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Que.
But Daniel wasn’t always intent on following in the steps of his father as an offensive player. In fact, he was a big fan of goaltenders when he was younger.
“Goalies have their own rituals and they’re a bit weird sometimes,” Daniel said. “I always found that very interesting.”
Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy winner José Théodore was the fan favourite in Montreal when Donald joined the Habs, and a wide-eyed Daniel found everything about the netminder’s job fascinating.
“He always became friends with the goalies, I don’t know why,” said Donald, a former right winger. “But it probably gave him a bit of an advantage, and maybe that’s why he’s able to score so many goals on them.”
Daniel was at his best last season, earning a spot on Quebec’s roster as an under-age player for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and helping the Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin win the LHMAAAQ championship and take silver at the 2012 TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship.
He finished as the national championship’s scorer with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in seven games and took home Top Forward honours with his father watching as general manager of the Phénix.
The first-overall selection in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, 16-year old Daniel is adjusting to the Major Junior level, getting used to playing a faster game against bigger players.
“The biggest thing is work ethic, that’s what I always told him,” said Donald, who made a name for himself after being selected late (183rd overall) in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. “If you have a good work ethic with the talent, you’re going to go far.”
Playing professionally at 5-foot-8 and barely 180 pounds, Donald compensated for being an under-sized player with an unmatched compete level that made him a difficult opponent. He finished with 509 points in 735 games between six NHL clubs.
Like father, like son, Daniel is also an undersized player with a tenacious game, although Donald, now an amateur scout with the Canadiens, suggests Daniel is a much more complete player than he was.
“I just have to be smarter,” said Daniel, a quick and shifty skater. “And play the type of game that makes me good, instead of trying to be something that I’m not.”
Daniel will have a familiar face behind the bench as Quebec looks for its first World Under-17 Hockey Challenge gold medal since 2006, with Donald serving as the team’s head coach.
Having his father as a head coach isn’t entirely new to Daniel, though. From an early age, Donald coached his son’s summer team, with a roster that includes six players who will suit up for Quebec in Victoriaville and Drummondville.
As the lone returnee from last year’s fifth-place team, Daniel will be looked upon to play a leadership role with the U17s this year.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for him where he can measure himself against other players,” Donald said. “I’m not going to depend on him more because he’s my son; I’m going to depend on him because he’s one of the top players on the team.”