WINDSOR, Ont. – Thomas Chabot’s passion and skill was on display until the bitter end.
With his Saint John Sea Dogs down three goals in the final flickers of the third period, Chabot was still playing as if his floppy hair was on fire, ferociously driving the net and depositing a crucial tally right before ploughing into Erie Otters goalie Troy Timpano.
Then, when an Erie empty-netter meant all the effort was for naught, Chabot splintered his stick against a post as red as his angry mood. All he could do after that was glide to the bench and ride out the final 34 seconds of his incredible major junior career.
Chabot competed in his last game as a Sea Dog on Friday night in Windsor, his team being eliminated from the Mastercard Memorial Cup thanks to a 6-3 semifinal loss at the hands of the powerhouse Otters. The setback was the final act in a season that saw Chabot make his NHL debut with the Ottawa Senators, deliver an MVP performance for silver-medal winning Team Canada at the World Junior Championship and, ultimately, come up short in his quest to deliver a national title for the only junior squad he ever skated for.
“It hurts, obviously, but we can’t just think about the four games we played here,” Chabot said. “We’ve got to think about the 80 others we played this year.”
You can bet, for the vast majority of those, No. 5 was the best player wearing a Saint John uniform, running the show from his spot on the blue-line. And given that brilliant precedent, it was certainly strange to see Chabot take two second-period penalties against Erie and rack up 14 penalty minutes overall in four Memorial Cup games after recording just 12 minutes in 18 QMJHL playoff outings.
Chabot had no real explanation for the infractions, other than stating that sometimes your stick just ends up between the wrong feet at the wrong time. But considering the 20-year-old’s overall body of work, don’t expect the rare rash of penalties to linger in anybody’s mind for long. Despite spending an unusual amount of time in the box, he still registered two goals and four points this week.
“He’s an amazing defenceman and he’s a good person on and off the ice,” said Erie’s Taylor Raddysh, Chabot’s opponent on Friday and teammate from the 2017 WJC. “He’s a leader.”
Sin-bin excursions notwithstanding, that notion was evident all game. No. 5 logged his typical ton of ice time, moving his lanky 6-foot-2 frame around the ice with enviable ease. And when he spotted a chance to join the rush late in the third, Chabot took off like a shot, determined to drag his team back from the brink.
“You can just see the speed he has, the hockey IQ,” said Sea Dogs centre Joe Veleno, himself a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft. “He’s gonna make things happen every time he’s on the ice. He’s a big player and you know he’s got a bright future.”
One day after the team that drafted him was bounced in double overtime from the NHL’s Eastern Conference Final, Chabot — the 18th overall selection in 2015 — didn’t want to talk about what’s ahead other than to say his goal is to be a Senator next fall. And the notion of him joining a blue-line that already features singular talent Erik Karlsson should help Sens fans emerge from their current fog of despair.
Soon enough, Chabot will turn his attention to making that scenario a reality. But while still wearing sweat-drenched Sea Dogs gear, he was thinking about his entire major junior journey.
“You walk in there, 16 years old … for me, I wasn’t speaking a word in English,” he said. “You get in there as a young kid and you leave there as a young adult.”
With more growth yet to come, it’s easy to see why people are so excited about Chabot’s next phase.