Growing up in Mascouche, Que., just 40 kilometres from Montreal, Frédérik Gauthier was like so many other young Quebec hockey players – an avid Montreal Canadiens fan with dreams of playing for the Habs.
But that changed June 30, 2013, when Gauthier was drafted by – of all teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Fred’s grandfather grew up next to [Canadiens legend and Hockey Hall of Fame member] Doug Harvey’s house, so he was red from head to toe,” says Frédérik’s father, Stéphane Gauthier. “When my son was selected by the Leafs he cursed out loud, but now at age 71 and with his grandson drafted, he’s changed his colours.”
But before they support their son with the Maple Leafs, Stéphane and his wife, Sophie, had one more chance to watch their son get cheered in Montreal, with Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.
After following Frédérik to Malmö, Sweden, for last year’s World Juniors, the Gauthiers were excited by the opportunity to see their son don the Canadian jersey again, but this time on home soil.
And this year’s tournament comes with an added bonus; Sophie has seen more of her son over the holidays than she does during the regular season when he plays for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic, six hours away.
Seeing their son represent their country is one tremendous source of pride for the Gauthiers, but seeing him play on the Canadiens’ home ice is another thing all together.
“Fred never knew the Montreal Forum days growing up, so he always dreamed of playing in the Bell Centre,” Stéphane says. “For me, a Habs fan, it was truly special to see him out there in the last minutes of the game, when the whole crowd was up on their feet and cheering on.”
Sophie is just as much a Canadiens fan as her husband, but had actually never been to see them play at the Bell Centre. She was saving that experience for one special moment in particular.
“I promised myself that the only time I would go to the Bell Centre would be the day that my son plays in the National Hockey League,” she says. “But this year, with him being with Team Canada, I definitely made an exception.”
Frédérik, though, could not have been more eager to get onto the ice in his hometown and soak up the adoration of the pro-Canadian crowds during the preliminary round.
After all, he knew his time as a fan favourite in Montreal was fleeting.
“I kept enjoying every moment,” he says with a smile. “Because next time I play there, who knows what kind of treatment I’ll be receiving.”