PHOTO: Tami Quan
This is the third of four instalments highlighting the graduating 20-year-old players from the Warriors roster, continuing with forward Chris Duclair
The Lac St. Louis Lions hockey program has had some prominent alumni run through their team, including the likes of current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn and Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair. Fittingly, this is the spot that Chris decided to play his hockey prior to Junior and develop with the program. It was an experience that Duclair felt helped pave the way for him to get to the next level.
“I feel like it helped a lot playing at Lac St. Louis and developing my game,” Duclair commented, “The coaches at Lac St. Louis are big on defensive play and responsibility so I felt like that was a huge part of my game that needed to develop before making the jump to Junior hockey. Coming out of that program, I felt like I was flying on all cylinders into Junior hockey.”
When it came time to choose a destination to play his Junior hockey, Duclair signed with the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canadian Hockey League (CCHL) ahead of the 2020/21 season. The Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec native only played in 17 exhibition games before COVID-19 forced the stoppage of play in Ontario so Duclair, with the help of his family, made the decision to take his play south of the border.
“I sat down with my family and we got in contact with Hampton Roads and I had the chance to play 15 games with them,” stated Duclair, “It was an awesome experience for me, it was in Virginia and that was a great place to play and I really enjoyed my time there.”
Making the transition to play Junior hockey is one thing but to do so in another country during a time where hockey and life was so uncertain is another and Duclair credits his billets in Hampton Roads, Virginia and throughout his experience in Junior hockey in making him feel at ease.
“I got really lucky with billets,” Duclair said, “All my billets that I have had through my Junior hockey career have been awesome. They make it really easy for me when it comes to sometimes doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and they make the responsibilities of life really easy for you to just focus on hockey.”
Heading into a full season of hockey for the first time in two years, Duclair saw an opportunity with the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) as a stepping stone in his career in Texas. Through 59 games in Odessa, Duclair notched 22 goals and 42 points to pace his team in scoring.
“I wasn’t really known as an aggressive hockey player or someone who is known to throw their body around,” Duclair explained, “I sat down with my head coach and he mentioned that he thought I was strong and fast enough to play that kind of style and I bought in to what my coach had told me and it was a great development year.”
Coming into the 2022/23 season, Duclair had thought his Junior hockey career was done following his season in Odessa. The 5’7″, 170-pound forward had his sights set on heading to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and begin his college hockey career. Those plans changed, however, and the decision to come to West Kelowna became a reality for Duclair to spend his final season of Junior in the Central Okanagan.
“At first I really wasn’t even suppose to go to the Warriors so it’s funny how things work out,” commented Duclair, “I was suppose to go to college but after that didn’t work out, RIT was able to find me a spot in West Kelowna. Things worked out for the better, I really enjoyed my time in West K and I’m really thankful I was able to come here for my final year of Junior.”
There are a lot of different takeaways for Duclair from his time in West Kelowna, including the fan base and the group of players that he was surrounded by every day, “The city itself is awesome, the fans are great, the fanbase is unlike anything I’ve ever been apart of in Junior hockey,” Duclair mentioned, “Our Captain Aiden Reeves always there in the locker room and encouraging us even when he was out of the lineup. I’ve never really met this kind of group of guys and I felt like this year was a great year in terms of the leadership group and the types of skill that we had.”
Voted as the Fan Favourite for the 2022/23 season, Duclair noticed the support when he was on the ice, “There were definitely a few times that I noticed when I did something on the ice that the fans were getting into it so I thought that was pretty funny and really great to hear.”
The leadership group for the 2022/23 season, which included Duclair, laid a strong foundation for the team when it came to the culture and closeness of the team. Duclair states that a large part of that came from the man with the ‘C’ in Aiden Reeves, “I thought that Aiden Reeves as a captain was perfect,” Duclair said, “He knew exactly what to do, what to say and what type of game we needed to play in order to win. He knows what it takes to be a leader and act like a professional and Aiden Reeves was really that backbone that held the leadership group together for the season.”
Having a helping hand on Chris’ hockey career has been his older brother Anthony, who is playing at the highest level with the Florida Panthers in the NHL. The two talk often and Anthony tries to watch as many games as possible and has three words of advice for Chris while playing hockey, “Just have fun,” Duclair stated, “Hockey is suppose to be a fun sport and a fun game and if you’re not having fun while playing hockey then things just aren’t going to work out well.”
Duclair is set to attend RIT this fall, the same school where former Warrior forward Carter Wilkie has lit up the scoresheet over the past few seasons and is excited to get on campus and into the hockey program, “I know the team didn’t have the playoff they wanted but the goal is to go in and continue the success they have had over the last couple of seasons and I’m really looking forward to getting going there.