Indigenous Hockey Star Cements Incredible Year With Championship Title and MVP Award
Francis Verreault-Paul was able to finish off his university hockey career with some prestigious team and individual accolades.
And now the 24-year-old Montagnais, who is from Mashteuiatsh, an Innu community in Quebec, is waiting to see whether he can launch a professional playing career. Verreault-Paul is a fourth-year forward with Montreal's McGill Redmen. McGill captured the Canadian men's university title on March 25.
The Redmen defeated the University of Western Ontario Mustangs 4-3 in overtime in the championship final. The national tournament was staged in the New Brunswick capital of Fredericton. Verreault-Paul was selected as the most valuable player at the tournament. He earned five points, including three goals in three games.
"The main prize was winning the tournament," said Verreault-Paul. "But winning the MVP prize is very special for me."
Verreault-Paul is hoping to take his scoring touch to the pro ranks - and the sooner the better. Because of the attention he's generated, there's a chance a pro club might make him an offer to join its team for the remainder of this season.
"I'm all in for that," he said. "But I don't know what will happen. I did what I had to do this year. And I played a good tournament (at the nationals). My agent is working on (a possible pro deal) now."
Verreault-Paul wants a shot at playing in the American Hockey League, the top minor pro circuit in North America and one step below the National Hockey League.
"I'd like to play in the AHL and if not there then I would go to the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL)," he said.
Verreault-Paul would technically be eligible to return to McGill for a fifth season as athletes in Canada can play five years at a post-secondary school. But he said he won't be back.
Besides wanting to start a pro career, returning for another season is not appealing for him as he will graduate from the school in April with a Psychology degree.
"I couldn't ask for a better ending," he said of his Redmen hockey career. "We waited four years for this. I'm very proud of the team. We worked hard and we deserved this. It's a great accomplishment."
McGill hockey fans were certainly celebrating Sunday's victory. This marked the first time in the program's rich 136-year history that the Redmen have won a national championship.
Before joining McGill, Verreault-Paul spent five seasons playing with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Despite some respectable campaigns in this Major Junior A circuit, he was never drafted by a NHL team.
"I think my weakness when I was playing junior was my skating," he said. "I wasn't very fast. But I've worked hard on my speed the last few years. That's the main difference in my game now."
McGill coach Kelly Nobes said pro scouts attended quite a few of the team's matches this season. And they were frequently asking him about Verreault-Paul.
"He's been outstanding for us this year," Nobes said. "He's an extremely hard working player. And his battle level is so high."
Despite missing five regular season contests, Verreault-Paul still led the Redmen in goal scoring. He had 21 goals in 23 games and also chipped in with 13 assists.
"He's a very dynamic player," Nobes added. "And he scored some big goals for us this year."
The McGill bench boss also believes Verreault-Paul would be able to be a contributor for a pro squad.
"He just needs an opportunity," he said.
During his McGill days, Verreault-Paul won several other individual awards. He won the Ontario university league scoring championship during his second season with the Redmen, as he averaged two points per outing, 54 points in 27 matches. That year he was also chosen as the Player of the Year in the Ontario league.
McGill is one of three Quebec-based clubs that competes in the 19-squad Ontario circuit. After his third year with the Redmen, Verreault-Paul was awarded the Guy Lafleur Trophy. This award, named after the former NHL star, is annually awarded to the Quebec university hockey player who best combines athletic performance with academic prowess.