Riverview — A 10-year-old boy from Riverview has become the youngest player to sign a contract with the National Hockey League, thanks to the relentless onslaught of shouting that he received from his parents.
Fifth-grader Austin LeBlanc, a student at Riverview East School, has been toiling away in the Novice and Atom leagues for more than 4 years. Now, as the result of a rare set of circumstances, he has been given a chance to skate in “The Show” and face-off with hockey legends more than twice his age.
“It was a lot of hard work on our part,” exclaimed hockey-dad George LeBlanc. “And, also my son too I guess. Me and his mother did the typical ‘hockey parent’ routine of going to the rink day and night several times per week. We came to every practice and game and analyzed every move he made on the ice. If anything was not perfect, we offered him helpful feedback from the stands as loudly as we could. We also practised at home for many, many hours, even when he mostly had no interest in doing it. Now, it’s all paid off!”
The dramatic draft all started last month at the Byron Dobson Memorial Arena on Biggs Drive. NHL scout David Betteridge was in town to spend time with his wife’s family, and decided to take a break from the visit by heading to the local rink. “There’s only so much of my mother-in-law that I can handle,” he confided. “I needed to get out of the house for a while, so I went to see some hockey. My wife called me and asked where I disappeared to, and I told her that there was a prospect that I was checking out. She didn’t believe me and told me to get back there pronto. So, I knew I had to come up with something.”
On that same September day, Austin LeBlanc was playing with his team and scored a series of goals, catching the scout’s attention. “I overheard the other team’s goalie say he had to pee really badly, and he wasn’t getting a chance to go until the period ended,” recalled the senior LeBlanc, “so, I yelled at Austin to go after him as hard as possible, and my son ended up getting a hat trick!” That’s when the visiting NHL scout sidled up to the LeBlancs and made them an offer that no hockey parent could refuse.
LeBlanc’s mother, Jocelyn, also ardently coaches her son from the stands at every single possible opportunity. “My coaching style involves standing on my seat and bellowing instructions to Austin as loudly as possible,” she beamed. “During every play, I give him helpful advice like, ‘GO GO GO! GET THAT GUY! HUSTLE! GET THE PUCK! GET IN THERE! STAY WITH IT! SCORE! DON’T GIVE IT BACK TO THEM! SKATE SKATE SKATE!!’ Now, it’s clear that all of that compulsive shrieking worked!”
The LeBlancs also help to coach others during the game. “If the teenage referees make a ‘bad call,’ we point it out to the officials immediately and very loudly — sometimes face-to-face — so they have an opportunity to improve,” they said. “We regularly inquire as to whether the referees have a visual disability, whether they are awake, if they are acquainted with the game of hockey and the rules of the game, as well as asking how they fit their entire head inside of their own ass. In the end, I truly believe that the refs enjoy our honest and frank feedback on their performance.”
When asked if they have dreams of a Stanley Cup in their future, the LeBlancs were less optimistic. “Well, let’s put it this way — our son was drafted to the Toronto Maple Leafs, so what do you think?” they laughed.