At just 24 years of age, Trevor Blanchard has conquered the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), played in the NHL, and was the lead scorer on the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team last year.
Blanchard has also just been elected the Stingers’ new captain, earning the “C” on his jersey for the first time.
“I took the role of leader right from the start of training camp this year,” Blanchard said.
“I’ve always tried to lead on and off the ice and I think the guys really realized that. It’s an honour that I’ll always remember.”
Blanchard grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, where his father had to stretch the truth to get him involved in organized hockey for the first time.
Starting to play when he was only three years old, Blanchard’s father lied about his son’s age, pretending he was one year older than he really was, just so he could play on the team his father helped coach.
“I was always playing against older guys, from that moment on, all the way up until I was 13,” Blanchard said.
At that stage, he began playing Minor Peewee AAA, against kids his own age and was no longer under the coaching of his father.
Nevertheless, Blanchard credits his father, who has more than 20 years experience in coaching minor hockey, for helping him develop as a player.
“He took me under his wing when I played, but when I hit Peewee he let me do my own thing.”
Blanchard was drafted to the OHL when he was only 16-years-old.
He played two years with the Owen Sound Attack before being traded to the Sudbury Wolves where he played for another two years. Blanchard says he had some adjustments to make when he joined Concordia and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) alliance.
“I was the agitator in Juniors,” he said.
“I had to prove that I was tough enough to play at that level, and that I was willing to drop the gloves. My second year, I had about 187 penalties in minutes, maybe about 17 or 18 fights.”
The CIS however forbids its players from fighting, with the threat of a one-game suspension or more for dropping the gloves, depending on how often a player engages in fighting.
The forward player quickly learned to follow the rules.
“I’ve managed to go three years without a fight.”
However, Blanchard advocates the re-institution of the one-fight rule that was present in varsity hockey many years ago.
“I just think it would help the game, clean it up,” he argued.
“In Juniors, if you did something wrong, you knew that you had better keep your head up. There’s not as much respect in the game now, there’s more stick work and chippy play because they know they can get away with it.”
Blanchard counts a battle with NHL New York Ranger Sean Avery as one of his favourite fights in the Junior League.
“I beat him in Owen Sound, the city I used to play in, so I was the hero for a few weeks after that,” he said.
“I know Sean pretty well-we golf together in the summer. He still buys me a beer for that one,” Blanchard laughed.
After he had played two years with Owen Sound, when he was barely 19-years-old, Blanchard received the call so many young hockey players dream of.
“On draft day I got a call from the Detroit Red Wings, inviting me to camp,” he said.
After a dynamite year in the OHL, being ranked 76th, Blanchard was expecting a call, but he just didn’t know where it would come from.
Once he agreed to Detroit, he later received calls from Atlanta, Columbus, Minnesota and Toronto.
But Blanchard far from regrets his decision to join the Red Wings camp, getting the chance to interact with hockey legends such as Steve Yzerman and Dominik Hasek.
“It was just great to be on the ice with those guys,” he said.
Blanchard participated in the rookie tournament, playing against Minnesota, Atlanta, Nashville and Columbus.
His skills impressed the head honchos and Blanchard succeeded in making it past the rookie camp and into the main camp.
The main camp, lasting about a week and a half, gave Blanchard the experience of skating with veterans every hockey fan admires.
He was able to play exhibition games against Boston and New York, on a line with Thomas Holmstrom and Luc Robitaille.
“I had a hard time just tying my skates before the game,” he laughed. However, Blanchard was too young to be eligible to make it into the American Hockey League, so he was sent back down to the Juniors.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” he said.
The year Blanchard was sent back to the Juniors proved to be a difficult one for him. After sustaining a serious shoulder injury that would weaken his normal tempo and style of play, he was unable to play for most of that year.
He was also pressured to come back earlier than he should have, which inhibited the proper healing of his injury.
After the high of being invited to an NHL camp followed by a year plagued with an injury that never healed properly, Blanchard played one more rough year in Juniors before making a hard decision.
“I decided to just take a year off hockey,” he said. “It was a stressful time in my life.”
The pressure of being scouted by various universities in the CIS and affected by a season that was far beneath his own standards, Blanchard decided to return to Sudbury to help his father coach and to figure out where he wanted to be.
On a recommendation from a friend that was on the Concordia team at the time, Blanchard called head coach Kevin Figsby and the two arranged a meeting.
“Kevin took a really big chance on me. I hadn’t played in a year when I showed up to camp,” Blanchard said.
But for coach Figsby, it wasn’t that much of a risk.
“I knew who he was before he called me. I had seen him play,” Figsby said. From there, Coach Figsby did his research on Blanchard both as a player and as a person.
“Everybody that I talked to said the same thing about him. His has tremendous work ethic and he has great leadership skills,” he said.
From a coaching perspective, Figsby wasn’t at all concerned with the fact that Blanchard hadn’t played in a year, and had sustained a fairly serious injury.
“We knew that if rehab had to be done, then [this was] the place to do it,” Figsby said.
When Blanchard first made the team at Concordia, he was a fourth line forward with linemates Marc-André Rizk and Mike Baslyk, and barely saw any ice time.
That is a far cry from the power forward he is today, still skating alongside Rizk and Baslyk, in the top line on the Stingers and one of the most dominant ones in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) hockey.
Blanchard is big on leadership, insisting that it is the biggest compliment that somebody could give him.
“In the 24 years that I’ve coached hockey, I’ve never once elected a captain,” Coach Figsby said.
“There were 26 guys on the team and when we took the vote for captaincy, all 26 of them had a mark next to Trevor’s name.”
Earning the respect of his teammates is important to Blanchard, who stresses team bonding both on and off the ice as an essential part of the game.”I’ll do anything for the guy next to me,” Blanchard said.
The Stingers are currently 3-2-0, and had their best game of the year against the Carleton Ravens on Oct. 20. The final score was 8-2 They play at home against the University of Toronto on Friday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the Ed Meagher arena before the game.