Growing up breathing in the salt air, I had two true loves. Relationships that stayed strong until today. Both were hockey teams, of course. One you likely know wears Blue & White, and the other was whoever played out of Centre 200 in Sydney, Nova Scotia, about a twenty minute drive from my house. Life brought me to Ontario, but the home of my heart will always be Cape Breton.
First it was Edmonton’s farm team, the Oilers, who had my undying support. Then, before I left to set sail on the Great Lakes and make a life in Ontario, the tenant was the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
It is no stretch when I tell you I was your typical rink rat. Rarely did I miss a game or warm up, usually draped over the glass asking Shaun Van Allen how many buries his line was gonna get. I knew the faces of the crowd and they knew mine. When the Calder Cup came to town, I jumped on the ice and hugged the players, without security stopping me, and later that night put my lips to it. Though AHL commissioner and then GM Dave Andrews held me back from drinking the champagne, I was only 12 or 13 after all. I could be best described as one of those fans who was around so much I became what I thought to be part of the team. My Dad’s first cousin Paul was the Play by Play man with the Oilers, and later when the Screaming Eagles came to town he had a change in career paths, eventually becoming Team President. So the extra connection was certainly there, but really didn’t affect my fandom any. I was already all in. What I’m trying to tell you is the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles organization means a great deal to me.
I can still remember having a rum and coke with Pascal Vincent, head coach of the Eagles the year before I left, the night we became the #1 ranked team in the CHL. I also remember the heartbreak of being upset by Chicoutimi later that year while Marc Andre Fleury watched his junior career end from the bench. Not long after Vincent moved on just like Fleury, and nothing was really the same there for a long time after. Almost parallel to the last decade in Toronto, the success wasn’t there. Troubled times had come to my hometown. Now, fortunately, the tides have turned for the pair of team in my hockey heart. For the Maple Leafs, our big moment could very well be winning the draft lottery and picking first overall. For Cape Breton, the shift in fortune revolved was born from missing out on a first overall pick.
When Nick Roy was taken by Cape Breton in 2013 and chose not to report (resulting in a rule change for compensatory picks) it was par for the course when it came to the luck of the Screaming Eagles. A blow which felt crippling at the time, forcing some to even ask how the organization could absorb more letdown. Instead of stitching Roy on the back of a Black and Yellow jersey, when the dust settled after trading his rights, Cape Breton ended up with the 5th pick the following year. And with it they selected from Sainte Agathe des Monts, Quebec, Pierre Luc Dubois, in what should be viewed as a franchise altering moment.
When Dubois arrived to training camp as a 16-year-old, top 5 pick, fans didn’t exactly know what to expect, nor did they likely put an abundance of thought into it. There wasn’t major hype to speak of surrounding the forward. Not unlike the situation up until recently, no one knew all that much. Things changed readily, as it didn’t take long for the Maritime people to realize the sleek workhorse they had.
He made his presence known from the first day of camp, flying around, throwing his body, giving everything. Other players telling him to “Relax PL, you’re a top 5 pick, you are already on the team.” For Dubois though, it’s not about making teams. It’s about living and playing right.
If we are going to get to know Pierre Luc there’s two things we have to talk about. One, he’s the son of a coach, and that we’ll get to. Second, is his character. Named the 2015/16 QMJHL Personality Of The Year, it’s beyond easy to see why. Since being drafted by Cape Breton in the 2014 QMJHL Entry, Dubois has been a near perfect student athlete. While the ISS ranked him #1 in this year’s draft class under the category of Leadership. His effort level on the ice is mirrored or even magnified off the ice.
The #1 ranked North American skater in this year’s NHL Entry Draft has devoted himself to having a positive impact on the youth in Cape Breton and become an ambassador for the Screaming Eagles organization. Dubois didn’t know much about Cape Breton when he arrived, but he wanted that to change. Every time there was a team event in the community Dubois would text team officials “Am I going to the event, if not, can I come?” It’s been passed on to me that the Eagles may have never seen a kid, let alone a top 10 NHL prospect, so committed to giving back.
I was told of a story where 6’3”, 200+ pound forward returned from the Ivan Hlinka to attend training camp and was given some time to himself, to relax. The day after winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka, the Eagles received a message from PLD saying, “When I return do you think we can go to the Boys and Girls Club for a visit when I get back to Cape Breton? Because I promised them that I would return this year and visit them before school starts”.
Another story I’ve heard that sticks out about what type of constitution Dubois has, after one game PL was a last minute scratch due to injury, PL again texted the Eagles and asked “Hey, let me know if you want me to do anything with the fans during the game, as I am not in the lineup tonight?” They printed off a bunch of promotional material and advertised that during the 2nd intermission PLD will be signing autographs in the main concourse. Dubois messaged during the 2nd period and said, “Hey I can come down now and start early?” With 8 minutes left in the 2nd period he was taken down and he started signing. With time running down Dubois turned and said, “I think you should go get some more material for me to sign, because I am not leaving until everyone in line gets an autograph.”
This was no rare occurrence, this is who he is. Win or lose, Dubois is always there to sign autographs in the fan tunnel. When the Eagles practice 2:00pm to 4:30pm, a minor hockey team often has a practice following, and Dubois will sometimes ask their coach if he can jump on and work with the kids. Whether it was the annual Breast Cancer Walk For Cure, or an event in support of Special Olympics Cape Breton, or the “RESPECT PLEDGE CAMPAIGN (Anti-Bullying) where PLD visited five different schools where he spoke to students about making healthy decisions and how doing so has helped him reach his potential as being a player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he is always giving back.
“I think the big thing is my dad was a coach in the Q League, so I was around it. But what I remember almost more than anything else is how I looked up to those players in the room. To be in that atmosphere and what it meant to me, I told myself if I ever get the chance to be one of those guys some kid was looking up to I was going to try and help them and be a role model. I’m in Sydney and I want to make an impact in the areas I can and be a part of the community.”
This leads us to Pierre Luc Dubois – The Hockey Player. The large framed, slick moving, power forward with finesse, who without question has been sculpted with the help of his father, Rimouski assistant coach and former Nordiques draft pick, Eric.The son told me he credits his parents for always reminding him to be a good person first, hockey comes second. But for the younger Dubois, the two go hand in hand.
“I try and do the right things off the ice, live the right way, treat people with respect. I take the same approach on the ice, if it’s a game or a practice, just to always give my all. I want to bring the same honest effort to making a difference in the city of Sydney as I do every day at the rink. It’s how I was raised by my Mom and Dad. I want to make them proud and represent my team, teammates, and be the best person and player I can be.”
As tremendous as Dubois is off the ice, he can match it on the ice. Make no mistake, Dubois is an elite talent. What makes him all the more special – he is as cerebral as he is gifted. It does not take long when speaking with Dubois to realize how much he’s taken in being a coach’s son. The knowledge and maturity for a young man his age is staggering. It shows when he talks about his play without the puck.
“I do take pride in playing in the defensive side of the game. Really, I want to be able to make solid plays in all three zones, whether scoring a big goal or breaking up a play on the back check. That’s something my coach and I talked a lot about during the playoffs. Games are going to be tight, 3-2, it’s going to be one play and it’s not always going to be a goal, and hopefully sometimes it is too. In the playoffs we talked about D-zone draws, and I took a lot of them, just those things that you want to be called on for. I want to be as complete a player as I can be.”
With the topic of position coming up, it should be noted Dubois finished the year in the middle, though versatility is no doubt a strength going forward.
“I played mainly center coming down the stretch and in the playoffs. I think I’ll be a center, I like to play there. I can use my body down low in the defensive zone and win battles to break us out, so I like the middle that way. But I’ll play left wing, right wing, whatever. There’s a responsibility playing center though and I enjoy it.”
As the year went on, Dubois just kept improving, rocketing up the draft rankings.
“I’ve always kinda been that way, gotten stronger as the season went on. We were very proud of how we finished the year winning 13 straight at home. Of course I wish we could’ve went on to win a league championship and if I’m back here in the fall that will be our goal. To bring a championship to Cape Breton.”
Doing this story for me, as I said, was a little bit different. Last year when I did Draft interviews with Strome, Hanifin, and Marner, I reached out to people I’ve never really met. When looking for opinions and insight on Pierre Luc, it was simple, I just had to call home. Trusted friends, family, people around the team, I knew all the right voices to hear from. One tells me Dubois is every bit as polished the player as Nate MacKinnon was at the same stage. Described as Datsyuk with an edge by another. Ryan Johansen was a name that came up in relation to frame and offensive skills. In my own viewings this year I couldn’t help think of Anze Kopitar. When I mentioned this to Dubois it drew a humble silence. I suspect, knowing how he’s wired, PLD doesn’t pay much attention to comparisons or where he may go in this year’s draft. Still, I asked the young rising prospect what he thought of his ascent to the top of the North American rankings.
“Every team has their own list, their own view on a player. I can’t control any of that. Chychrun, Tkachuk, all those guys are great and it’s an honor to be brought up in the same conversations and be compared against them. Wherever I end up I just want to keep getting better I make whoever takes me glad they did.”
Will that team be my Leafs? Probably not, but that’s due to circumstance of draft position more than lack of interest. When I initially had this piece in mind I was reserved to Toronto choosing in the 4 slot. I am convinced if we were picking there that Dubois would be the choice. Not only for the reasons above, but as much for the messages I received last year whenever Hunter was in Cape Breton or Halifax to watch #18 of the Eagles himself. Pierre Luc Dubois encompasses every trait Toronto wants from their players and he will be a staple, and a leader for whatever NHL team takes him.
Since I had the luxury of calling the 902 area code for help on this, I knew there was one last call I needed to make. First, I phoned my Dad to ask him for John’s number. John is a family friend and a respected hockey name in and around my household as long as I can remember. John played minor hockey with my Uncle, plays pick up with “Big Jude” and was a pro player in his day. Here’s what John had to say in regards to Pierre Luc.
“Nothing has been given to Pierre Luc. Everything that he has achieved he has earned through hard work.”
I suppose I should mention that John I’m referring to is John Kibyuk, Assistant Coach of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
“Extra time training, extra time at the end of practice, he’s worked at his game. He wants to be a complete player. I’ll tell you this, here is the difference between an amauteur and a professional. An amateur works at the things he is good at and a professional works at the things he isn’t. That’s Pierre Luc. He fights through the frustration of improving on his inadequacies and it’s made him better, made him who he is. It’s a always a two way conversation with him. ‘What do you want work on today?’ ‘Well what do you think I should work on’. Everyone in Cape Breton will be on the edge of their seat Friday night to see where Pierre Luc goes and he deserves every enjoyment that comes along with it. It’s been a pleasure watching him develop into the player he’s become.”
Pierre Luc Dubois has brought excitement and relevance to a passionate fan base in a working man’s hockey area that so desperately deserves it. The time will come when he moves on to the National Hockey League, this we are fairly certain of. What will never leave is the legacy he is leaving behind. His number will likely one day hang from the rafters at Centre 200 for his performance on the ice. More importantly, is the difference he’s making in the everyday lives of the youth and in the place I grew up, where my parents still reside, and my sisters children will be raised.
So on Draft Day I say thanks and wish Pierre Luc the best of luck, even if he ends up with a rival. The Eagles fan in me will make up for it. The goals for them, the wins, taking the franchise as far as they’ve been in the post-season, it’s all fantastic. But it’s everything else that never goes away. His efforts to make a difference will be remembered in my little hockey town. What Dubois has done won’t fade when the buzzer sounds. I was once one of those Cape Breton kids looking up with adoration, just like Pierre Luc was in his Dad’s dressing room. I never forgot those exchanges Van Allen graced me with, and neither will the young boys and girls Dubois has made smile. He’s been a role model in a community that needs them. When you see those you look up to succeed and set an example, it shapes you forever, long after the zamboni is off the ice and the lights in the arena are low.
We are an island, a rock in a stream. We are a people as proud as there’s been…and Pierre Luc…Cape Breton sure is proud of you, son.