Stingers hockey captain Philippe Hudon continues to set the bar higher
“Coming to Concordia, to be quite honest, it wasn’t planned,” said Philippe Hudon, captain of the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team. “I wanted to continue playing competitive hockey. I was the one really approaching the team. It was all last second.”
While his time with the Stingers has “turned out great,” Hudon said it was not the path he expected to take.
“If coming here as a Stinger was a bump in the road, it’s been one hell of a bump,” Hudon said. “I was able to learn a whole lot about myself and the type of hockey player that I want to be. I’m really thankful for the experience I’ve had at Concordia, and I can already be thankful for the next two years.”
Over the past three seasons, Hudon has established himself as a physical forward with a quick release who uses his size to pressure defenders on the forecheck. After former captain Olivier Hinse graduated at the end of last season, head coach Marc-André Élement told Hudon he would be team captain for the 2017-18 season.
“Phil is a professional,” Élement said. “He’s easy to coach. He’s so well respected by his teammates, so for me it was an easy choice. He’s doing a great job, he’s a great leader. I’m really happy that I chose him to be captain.”
Throughout Hudon’s hockey career, others have put high expectations on him. This began even before he started attending Choate Rosemary Hall in 2008, a boarding school in Connecticut known for its academics and hockey program. Choate plays in the Founder’s League, and is widely considered to be one of the top high school hockey leagues in the United States.
By the time he started at Choate, Hudon was already touted as a top prospect. He had decided to play at the boarding school instead of playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), according to NHL.com. He quickly impressed Choate’s head coach, Pat Dennehy, who said in an interview with NHL.com that Hudon was one of the most “high-profile” players he has ever coached. In his three years at the school, Hudon collected 59 points in 73 games, scoring the ninth-most points in the school’s history.
“The type of person I am, if I exceed expectations, I set the bar higher,” Hudon said about the standards he sets for himself on the ice and in the classroom.
The 2010-11 school year was a life-changing year for Hudon. It was his senior year at Choate, and he had committed to play the 2011-12 season at Cornell University. He was also scouted as one of the top 75 North American skaters going into the 2011 National Hockey League (NHL) draft. At one point, he was ranked as high as 31st among North American skaters. It was the same year he was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Hudon said he remembers how his condition affected him in school and on the ice. He also realized things were not normal in his life.
“I knew something was wrong, but I just kept pushing because I thought everything would fall into place,” he said. “I was alone, my parents were five or six hours away. I had a roommate. Things were kind of normal, but the year that it happened was my draft year.”
Hudon said after he committed to Cornell during his senior year, he had to maintain a good enough GPA in order to attend the following year.
“Expectations were very high, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. It got to a point where it wasn’t manageable. My [expectations] weren’t attainable. I kept trying and trying. I always had this personality trait of always having everything in order, very organized.”
The forward said he remembers when he realized his condition was getting out of hand. He would spent a good part of his day organizing his room, telling himself it would help him focus on school and hockey.
“It ended up tormenting me, hindering [me] to play the hockey that I would normally play, and to be a good student,” Hudon said.
He said he remembers feeling as though something was wrong, but believed he could power through it.
“There was one day, I had to take an exam at night that I had missed during the day because of hockey. I had studied quite a bit. I had studied a lot. There was a lot of anxiety inside of me and pressure exerted on me,” Hudon said. “As soon as I got my test, I opened my booklet and blanked. Nothing was coming to mind. I couldn’t write. I broke down immediately. I kind of had a panic attack, I didn’t necessarily know what was going on.”
Afterwards, Hudon said he got help right away and saw a psychologist at Choate.
“That’s when everything started heading in the right direction,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the test, I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted. I had to learn the hard way. Since then, I’ve only been able to better understand myself.”
In June 2011, the Detroit Red Wings selected Hudon at 145th in the NHL Entry Draft. “It’s a memory that I’ll cherish for my entire life,” Hudon said.
The experience of being drafted and attending training camp showed him what sets the NHL apart from any other hockey league in the world.
“You don’t notice it until you’ve lived it,” Hudon said. “I got a lot of experience by going to NHL camps. I learned a lot, even though I didn’t get to play any pre-season games, let alone play in the AHL [American Hockey League]. I got a lot of experience, got a lot out of the professionals that were there.”
Hudon opted out of his commitment to Cornell in the fall of 2011, taking a “leave of absence” after briefly attending the university. He stated his medical condition as a primary reason for leaving. Instead, he decided to play for the Victoriaville Tigres in the QMJHL. In three years with the Tigres, Hudon put up 71 points in 156 games.
In 2014, three years after getting drafted, the Red Wings did not sign Hudon to an NHL entry-level contract, meaning he became an unrestricted free agent and was able to sign where he liked. Hudon said that, at this point, his plans for playing pro hockey got “pretty chaotic.” He signed a contract with the then-named Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL, the third tier of professional hockey in North America. Only two months after signing, Hudon was released by the team.
While he doesn’t dwell on it too much anymore, Hudon said he remembers being disappointed at the time.
“Business is business, and they sent me home because [Greenville] had a lot of forwards coming down from the AHL,” he said. “You have to play the guys that are paid more. I obviously have nothing against the business of hockey, but I felt like I belonged there, if not in a league above that.”
Hudon said he wanted a better chance to play in a professional league. “I thought I deserved more. Whether it was because they saw a downside to my mental condition or not, I really didn’t think that it did anything. As soon as I stepped on the ice, that was my only safe haven. Nothing else mattered, not even my medical condition.”
After the Greenville Road Warriors signed and released him in a matter of two months, Hudon said he hoped to play at least one more year professionally before thinking about his academic future. In the end, his choice came down to McGill or Concordia. He picked Concordia in 2014 because he wanted to attend the John Molson School of Business as a finance major.
Even after the setbacks, Hudon’s goal remains unchanged. After his time at Concordia, he still hopes to play in the NHL. Hudon has seen other U Sports hockey players move up the ranks of professional hockey after graduating, and is hoping to follow that path. Recently, University of New Brunswick centre Francis Beauvillier, a Florida Panthers prospect, has been playing in the AHL.
“What distinguishes me is my relentlessness, that fact that I always want to play for the crest that’s on the front of my jersey, and not the [name] on the back. I just want to be on the ice,” Hudon said. “I’ve been passionate about hockey for a very long time. It’s not going to end tomorrow, not next year, not the year after that. I’m going to keep pushing until really [no opportunities] are open. I’m that determined.”
According to Hudon, he has big skates to fill with Hinse gone, but he’s not going to change the type of leader he is. He’s focused on leading the Stingers by example.
“Even if I was an assistant [captain], or not an assistant, I’m going to be the same person,” Hudon said. “Obviously [as captain] I’m going to be a little more vocal—it comes with the role. I’m not going to become someone that I’m not.”
Photos by Alex Hutchins
A previous version of this article wrongly called the ECHL the East Coast Hockey League. The Concordian apologizes for the error.