It was standing room only inside the Noelville Community Centre on Friday morning as Memorial Cup winner Philippe Daoust made a triumphant return home to French River.
The 20-year-old was a part of the Memorial Cup winning Saint John Sea Dogs and received a hero’s welcome.
“I tell you, Phil has brought so much joy to our community,” said French River Mayor Gisele Pageau.
“He’s a fine example of having a dream and making it come true and with the Memorial Cup, that’s part of his dream so we’re excited here.”
Pageau said hockey is a way of life in her community. The municipality of 2,500 is full of hockey fans. The NOJHL French River Rapids have called Noelville home for the last five years.
“Phil, I find him as a leader for young people in small northern Ontario towns that don’t think they can make it, but they can make it and he’s worked hard and we encourage people,” she said.
“The idea should be for people to move to small towns so they can achieve great success.”
Daoust was honoured with a framed jersey from his time with Moncton that will now hang in the halls of the hockey arena in hopes of inspiring others.
One person he’s already inspired is his younger cousin Braden Henderson.
“I love the sport, I love watching Phil play,” he told CTV News.
“I really like that (that he won the Memorial Cup). I play hockey and I want to play like Phil. He gives me encouragement.”
The Noelville native and Ottawa Senators prospect started his career with the French River Rapids.
Coach and GM Paul Frustaglio saw something special in the young man and gave him a chance.
“It’s a historic day for this community, the French River municipality, and to be quite honest with you northern Ontario,” said Frustaglio.
GOOD PERSON ON AND OFF THE ICE
“This young man has been a determined, hardworking, great person, as well, so it’s very important to be good both on and off the ice and Phil demonstrates that. He’s got great values that have been instilled into him by his family.”
For his part, Daoust described the experience as “surreal.”
“I’m just so happy to be here and to be able to bring back home to the town where I’m from and where my grandparents are from,” he said.
“It’s honestly a moment I’m going to remember for the rest of my life and I just have to thank all the family, friends and fans who came here to support me.”
Daoust said winning the cup was a bit of a blur, but if he had to rank them, the moment of bringing the come home is still a close second.
“It’s crazy seeing kids I saw four or five years ago that are almost taller than me now, it just means so much to me,” he said.
“I had a tough time in my hockey career. I hope the younger kids can look up to me and know that it doesn’t matter where you’re from — small or big town.”
He said he will relish the moment for a while. From here, he’s off to Barrie, another community he calls home to celebrate with more loved ones.
The power forward is hopeful he’ll be able to lace up his skates one day in the NHL, but Noelville will always be where he got his start.