Rapids continue youth movement

Hometown boy, Wolves prospect among latest recruits

While many hockey players across the province will spend late summer packing up and leaving friends, family and familiar surroundings behind for a chance to advance their careers, Philippe Daoust will be coming home.

By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star

The 16-year-old forward is from Barrie, but his parents hail from Noelville, home base for the French River Rapids of the NOJHL, and he’s well-acquainted with the community.

“I have lots of family and friends over there, so it will be fun and exciting,” said Daoust, reached earlier this week. “I’ll probably be going to live with my grandparents on my dad’s side, so it will be like home for me. They can’t really come to watch me play in Barrie, where I am now, so it will be fun.”

A skilled playmaking forward and one of a handful of signees recently announced by the local junior A outfit, Daoust will join Val Caron native Hunter Brazier, a draft pick of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, as well as Bala, Ont. product Ryan Smith, a Sudbury Wolves prospect, and Courtice, Ont. native Cooper Bowman, who epitomize the Rapids’ focus on youth, speed and development under president Paul Frustaglio, hockey operations director Sherry Bassin and new head coach Shawn Frappier.

Daoust attended tryout camp in June, after a solid 2017-18 season where he led the Barrie Colts midgets with 22 points in 34 regular-season games. He also had five points in four playoff contests.

“I had a great year and it helped Paul notice me,” Daoust said. “He had noticed me the year before, but I was a little small and now, I have grown a little bit. I was 5-4, but now I’m like 5-10, 145. That helped a lot.”

A product of the Don Mills Flyers minor midget program, he compared his playing style to that of Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau.

“He’s small, like me, but he’s a great playmaker, great hands,” Daoust said. “I like to score a few goals, but I’m more a guy who likes to see the ice and give other kids goals, make them look good.”

Aside from the local connection, French River’s approach to building its team and strong support from staff made for a good fit.

“They’re always there for me, even if I need help, need some tips on stuff, they’ll give it to me straight up,” Daoust said. “It will help me get better. It’s an organization where they like to develop kids, not scratch them. It’s a team that’s there for you and they won’t sideline you or anything. That’s something I really like. They’re going to help me get to the next level, keep contacts with people, and that’s what I need.”

That’s the goal, too, for Smith, an 11th-round pick in the OHL Priority Selection this past spring, following a point-per-game showing with the North Central Predators minor midgets.

He also has a connection to the North – his father, Ed Smith, played for the Wolves and Soo Greyhounds in the 1980s.

“Since I got drafted to Sudbury, I thought it was best to try and get on a team close to Sudbury, especially since they’re affiliated with each other,” said the 5-foot-8, 141-pound forward, who turned 16 in May. “I thought it was good for me to get up North and play near Sudbury.”

Another swift skater, he also ranks his vision and passing ability among his best attributes.

“I can find my teammates,” he said. “Whether they’re calling for it or not, I have a good feel for the ice and where they’re going to be. I think my IQ on the ice is really going to help me out.”

Smith plans to live in Sudbury during the season and commute to Noelville for games and practices. He was in the Nickel City in April, shortly after the OHL draft, to attend the Wolves’ prospect orientation camp.

“It was pretty fun, getting to skate in an OHL rink,” Smith said. “Staying over in a hotel for the camp and getting a feel for what it would be like playing there, it was really fun.”

The experience only encouraged him to find a team nearby and stay on the Wolves’ radar.

Frustaglio praised Daoust, whom he called “a sleeper,” but a potential breakout star, as well as Smith, for their creativity. With them in the fold, he predicted the Rapids will be a fun team to watch, with “lots of high-end skill.”

“I don’t really care if they’re ’01s or ’02s or 2000s – the skill is just going to take over,” Frustaglio said.

During the tryout camp in Toronto, he said, even the parents were excited about the Rapids’ potential.

“Everyone was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this French River team is going to be competitive,'” Frustaglio said.

The addition of Bowman, a 5-foot-9, 165-pounder who helped the Whitby Wildcats midget AAA squad reach the OMHA final this past season, also fits well with French River’s plan to play an up-tempo style.

“He was a surprise,” Frustaglio said. “He came in and I watched him and here’s a kid who has great hands, he sees the ice really well, and he’s the energizer bunny. He doesn’t stop moving, always in the play, and he’s a 200-foot player.

“You know how these guys are good hockey players? The puck is always around them. They’re like a magnet for it.”

Frustaglio believes it all bodes well for French River, a team which took a big step last year after winning just five games in its first two NOJHL seasons, to a respectable 13-38-5-0 record, and hopes to make playoffs in the coming campaign.

“We’re going to be very good and very young. We are what we are and we said we are going to get kids to the next level, so we’re keeping true to our word and we have gone after young, talented, fast hockey players, just like the Toronto Maple Leafs did, and you have a good core of veterans, that good mix. I’m not saying we’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s nothing wrong with being young, fast and skilled.”

The Rapids open the regular season with a visit to the defending-champion Cochrane Crunch on Sept. 7. Their home opener, also against Cochrane, is Sept. 14.


Twitter: @ben_leeson