Photo taken by Greg Hamil/Rockford IceHogs
A former head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks farm team, Ted Dent oversaw the development of no less than 22 future Stanley Cup winners. And maybe a 23rd soon in Phillip Danault.
The interview is just starting but, on the phone, you can sense the immense respect Dent has in his former centre.
“When the Canadiens reached the finals, I wanted to send him a text. And then, I realized that I changed phones two years ago and I don’t have his number anymore,” says Dent, a bit rattled.
When Danault finished his junior career and joined the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, it didn’t take Dent too long to figure out what kind of player he was going to be working with.
“One of the best young men I’ve had the chance to be around in Rockford, honestly. And I was there for 11 years, I’ve seen a lot of players. He just loved hockey. He always had a smile on his face. He was intense but he loved the process and he was always having fun.”
In fact, the coach thought that Danault was such a good example, as a hockey player and as an individual, that he wanted his young daughters to meet him.
“I’ve only had two players over to meet my family in Rockford and enjoy dinner.Danault and Dennis Rasmussen. My 10 and 13 years old daughters loved Phil. I wanted my daughters to have a chance to meet those two players in person. They played ping-pong in the basement and we took some pictures,” he recalled.
Different from Others
When he first came to the American Hockey League, Danault wasn’t a player like any other.
And by that, Dent doesn’t mean he has magic hands or a howitzer of a shot.
“He played without the puck,” he explained. “He wasn’t trying to simply score goals or be an offensive player. The faceoffs, the penalty kill, the defensive aspect of the game are all very important for a centre and he was buying into all of that. It’s tough to teach that mentality to young players in juniors or in the AHL.”
”He was ahead of the curve in that regard. He was already a 200-foot player. He was so strong on the puck. We didn’t have to teach him how to play without the puck except for a couple things here and there. Most of the development in the AHL is learning to play without the puck and Phil already had that figured out.”
“It’s rare to see a young man caring so much about those details, caring so much about shutting down the other team’s best players.”
Similarities with Toews
Ted Dent had a first taste of what Danault could offer during the Victoriaville native’s first development camp with the Blackhawks, in the summer of 2011.
The Hawks brass liked what they saw, so much that they started comparing him to the captain of the organization.
“The scouts and the members of the front office are there”, tells Dent. “We’re all there, basically. And a lot of people are starting to notice similarities between Danault and Jonathan Toews in the way they protect the puck and in regards to how strong they are in the corners. Danault’s legs were so strong at an early age, you could not move him.”
A Coach’s Dream
During his career, Danault never had any problem gaining the respect of his coaches. He will always have them by his side.
Ted Dent remembers two particular moments that symbolize what Danault means for a coach.
In 2015, the IceHogs hadn’t won a playoff series in six years. They were facing the Texas Stars in the first round of a best of 5.
In the third game, Danault’s sheer determination alone turned things around.
“Phil was taking a faceoff in the offensive zone and he managed to go through the other centreman. He went straight to the net and was able to push the puck behind the goal line. It was the tying goal in the third period and we won the game in overtime to take the series.”
“It was a big moment for Phil. I still have a picture of me, Danault and my daughter outside the dressing room after the game.”
Another meaningful moment happened when Danault had to be sent to the hospital because of an incident against the Charlotte Checkers. “He received a stick to the eye or to the face. He had to get stitches, treatments, but he didn’t want to miss a single game. I remember him sending me a text saying he wants to play tomorrow – because we were playing a back-to-back. It says a lot about his determination.”
Maybe Phillip Danault cannot move around the offensive zone like Artemi Panarin or shoot like Patrik Laine, but he does have one elite quality: perseverance.
“He’s a coach’s dream,” says Dent in admiration. “He cares so much.”
No doubt about that.