Marshall Frappier needed a place to play goal and maybe a boost of confidence. He found both at Noelville Arena.
The Sudbury Wolves prospect joined the French River Rapids of the NOJHL in mid-October and since then has emerged as one of that league’s top netminders. Despite losing his first four starts with the then-struggling squad, he now owns a 9-8 record, a solid 3.29 goals-against average and an excellent .922 save percentage.
The 18-year-old native of Nepean, Ont. will enter Friday’s game against the Soo Thunderbirds with three wins, including one shutout, in his last five games.
“It has been good to start getting some wins put together there,” said Frappier, Sudbury’s sixth-round pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. “We’re kind of in the playoff hunt now and we’re looking to finish off strong before the break, to close the gap a little bit. It has been going well.
“All the guys on that team are great guys, they all want to win, they all want to do better, so I’m glad to be able to be part of it and contribute to the success.”
Frappier started the season in Sudbury, but when Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen joined the Wolves in late September and Jake McGrath was bumped to backup status, Frappier was left without a spot. His only game action this season, at that point, was a two-minute span during a lopsided loss in Barrie, where he relieved McGrath, only to allow two goals on three shots and get pulled himself.
“It has been good to get in here and be the guy, get a lot of games and get back into a rhythm,” Frappier said.
While he hopes see more OHL action, something that could happen with Luukkonen away at world juniors the next few weeks, his more immediate focus is helping the Rapids reach the post-season.
“You always want to play at the highest level possible, so hopefully I can use this as a stepping stone, as a building block, to work my way back,” Frappier said. “At the same time, though, I’m fully committed to this team and I want to do well with them and hopefully, we keep winning games there.”
He’s thoroughly enjoying playing in Noelville, where attendance regularly tops 300.
“It has actually been a really cool experience,” Frappier said. “It’s a really small town and every home game, it’s pretty packed in the barn and they’re pretty into it. It’s a really cool feeling and a really tight community, everybody knows everybody, and it makes you want to win that much more for them, when they’re rooting for us and they’re so committed to our team.”
After a slow start, the Rapids have won six of their last 10 games. With a record of 12-19-2-1, they’re now only six points behind the Hearst Lumberjacks for fifth place in the NOJHL East Division.
Frappier is one of a handful of Wolves prospects driving the Rapids’ success. Levi Siau, Sudbury’s 12th-round pick in 2017, is second in team scoring with 32 points in 29 games. Ryan Smith, the Wolves’ 11th-round selection in this year’s draft and the son of former OHLer Ed Smith, has 18 points for French River.
The team has other local ties, too. Philippe Daoust, a native of Barrie whose family has roots in Noelville, leads the team with 35 points, while Val Caron native Hunter Brazier, a pick of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, isn’t far behind with 23.
Forwards Chad Lafortune and Marc-Andre Quevillon are from French River and Val Caron, respectively, while defencemen Griffin Simpson is from Garson.
Rapids president and general manager Paul Frustaglio attributed the team’s recent success to a number of factors, including buy-in from both young players and veterans, the leadership of captains Connor Loft, Will Frustaglio and Quevillon and Siau, and strong performances from rookies such as Daoust and Smith, as well as the play of Frappier.
“Having Marshall come down was a stabilizing factor, because he brought OHL goaltending experience to our team,” said Paul Frustaglio, who has also served as head coach since Shawn Frappier took a leave of absence. “Our goaltending was taken to a different level, because Marshall Frappier is a tremendous goalie. He’s like a Carey Price – cool as a cucumber, nothing rattles this young man, and on and off the ice, he’s professional, he’s a gentleman, a welcome addition to our hockey team.”
Frustaglio was impressed with the young puck-stopper’s reaction to being reassigned by Sudbury.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Hi, Paul, I’m really happy and I just want to help your team win,’ ” Frustaglio recalled. “I said, ‘Are you sad,’ and he goes, ‘No, I just have to work harder to get back to the Wolves and I just want to help your team win.’
“Sometimes, kids get sent down and they’re not happy about it, but this young man embraced it and preferred to play a lot, rather than being in a backup role or not playing at all, because he knows that one day, if he’s a world-class goalie, he will have his chance.”
To bolster the Rapids’ chances down the stretch, Frustaglio has added a pair of veterans, forward Reid Manning and defenceman Carter Brown.
“Our team was the youngest in the league,” Frustaglio said. “That was OK, because I knew we’d be able to build on the youth with some veterans once the season started and I knew exactly what we needed.”
Following their game against the T-Birds, the Rapids will cross the St. Mary’s River to take on the Soo Eagles on Saturday, then visit the Blind River Beavers on Sunday to wrap up the pre-Christmas side of their schedule.