For years, the Toronto Maple Leafs never had a great reputation of drafting QMJHL players. Once in a while there was a Vincent Damphousse, Sylvain Lefebvre, Felix Potvin or Yanic Perreault, but the scouting team’s primary objective has always been big and strong kid from Ontario and Western Canada. Opportunities were given to players like Hugo Marchant (1997 – 165th), Jonathan Gagnon (1998 – 181st) and recently, goaltender Jean-François Racine (2000 – 90th) and Nicolas Corbeil (2001 – 88th), but none of them have been able to step up as of right now. The Leafs took a chance in 2002 with defenseman Dominic D’Amour as they selected the young kid from La Salle, Quebec, 88th overall.
At that time, D’Amour was projected as a big and steady defensive defenseman. Defending his teammates, making things easier for his goaltender and clearing the crease were his strong points. What the Leafs management didn’t know when they picked him is that D’Amour can also be a force offensively. He tripled his points total in one year, going from ten in 2001-2002 to 30 in 2002-2003. This season he has increased his goals from 5 to 11, and the season isn’t over yet.
“I believe offensive comes when you take care of defensive,” explained D’Amour. He compares his style of play with Rob Blake but admits he doesn’t really have a model in the National Hockey League. He realizes his deficiencies and pays attention to them every time he’s on the ice. When asked about the main points he needs to adjust if he wants to play at a better level, he philosophically says that everything needs to be improved, we are never good enough.
Aside from his 2002 draft selection, his best memory as a hockey player was winning the President’s Cup (QMJHL Champions) last year. The Olympiques then tried to win the Memorial Cup but lost in the finals against a strong Kitchener team. Still, Gatineau is already looking like a strong contender and could this time finish the job and win the Cup in Kelowna.
D’Amour appreciates the fans and the atmosphere every time he wears the Olympiques jersey. “Gatineau is one of the best junior hockey towns, the fans are loud and faithful. When they cheer for you, they do it for real.”
Of course, they are even louder when they meet the Ottawa 67’s, the biggest CHL rivalry according to Dominic. Being a powerhouse definitely helps a team support and while Gatineau lost some good players in the offseason, the management was able to create a new chemistry with players believing in each other. Surrounded by captain and World Junior Championship team member Maxime Talbot, Dallas’ Martin Vagner, rookie Petr Pohl and Jean-Michel Daoust, third scoring leader, D’Amour can develop his game with a bunch of talented players also looking to big honors.
“The Olympiques have a team with a great offensive depth, a solid defensive and a reputation of hard workers. Our obscure leader is Olivier Labelle with his intensity,” he said.
The young defenseman is still a bit surprised to see his team in the Top 10 since the start of the season. They have played with passion and victories have come. The Memorial Cup experience gave Dominic the fundamentals in what it takes to win, the efforts and sacrifices needed game after game. Ironically, he never thought he would end up in Gatineau. Drafted by Rouyn-Noranda, he was shocked when he learned that he was traded. Management had told him five days earlier that he was an untouchable among the team. He didn’t know a thing about Gatineau but would soon learn.
D’Amour might have never worn a Team Canada jersey in his hockey career, but he could still end up with a big maple leaf on his chest sooner or later. He still dreams of wearing the red and white one day. Another irony about this French-Canadian is the fact that he might one day lace his skates and play in his hometown against his childhood team. Obviously, he gets teased by his friends and family about this uncomfortable situation but keep his head up with pride.
“I am proud of being a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs and yes, I get teased since my family and friends are Montreal Canadiens fans. But they told me they would change their affiliations if I make the NHL.”
The Leafs management asked him to stay the robust and defensive defenseman that he was at draft day and that offensive was a big bonus in his case. Knowing his second language pretty well, he never had trouble in training camps and could easily follow the team activities.
The Leafs have until June 1st to re-sign the 6’3” 220 pound defenseman or else he will be eligible for this year draft. They definitely need a strong puck-moving defenseman like him in what is already a great group of prospects, including offensive wizard Carlo Colaiacovo. He’s eighth in defensemen scoring in the QMJHL with already more than 30 points. The Olympiques have what it takes to win another President Cup and Dominic D’Amour will log a lot of minutes come playoff time.