by Al Alven, philadelphiaflyers.com
Friday, January 19, 2007
A brief pause in time was all it took for Jon Rheault to collect his thoughts on the matter. And, to his credit, he did not pull any punches in assessing his current situation.
“There’s no two ways about it,” the Providence College junior forward said with a light sigh. “This season has not gone the way we had hoped, or the way that I, personally, had hoped it would turn out. To this point, it’s been pretty frustrating.”
Coming off of a splendid sophomore campaign in which he established himself as one of the most feared snipers in Hockey East, Rheault (pronounced “Row”), looked forward to the opportunity to take his game to the next level this season, but a variety of factors have conspired to put a damper on the plans of the 2006 Flyers draftee (5th round, 145th overall).
Providence (5-15-1) struggled out of the gate this season, and has been mired near the bottom of the conference standings ever since. Rheault, despite flashes of brilliance, has subsequently struggled to regain his form from the previous campaign. Still, the 5’11’’, 200-pound center has maintained a positive outlook and continues to search for a method to get his game back on track.
“Every hockey player, every athlete, faces adversity,” the spirited 20-year-old reasoned. “It’s how you deal with it that defines the type of competitor you are. Things have been difficult this season. I haven’t been as consistent as I would like, and I realize that there are a lot of areas in which I need to improve.
“But I’m confident that we can still turn this thing around and get back on the winning side of things. For me, I know it’s a matter of getting back to the basics, rediscovering the little things I did [last season] that I had success with. It’s only a matter of time, as far as I’m concerned, but I honestly believe that we‘re just a big win or two away from breaking through.”
Continuing a Family Tradition
As evidenced by his choice of words and the classy manner in which he carries himself at and away from the rink, Rheault is very respectful of the game and the opportunity he has to play at the collegiate level.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” he explained. “Definitely something you can never take for granted. I’ve worked hard to get to this level, but it takes so much to get here. The commitment my family has always made to this passion is the main reason why I’m here.”
Though his family has always called the New England area home, Rheault was actually born in Arlington, Texas, where his dad had temporarily moved the family due to an employment opportunity.
“I don’t remember a thing about Texas, to be honest,” Rheault said. “My family moved back to New Hampshire when I was three, so all of my childhood memories are there. And, of course, there are just a few more rinks and opportunities to play hockey up here in the Northeast than there are down there, especially 10 or 15 years ago.”
Rheault found himself on skates by the time he was three and figures he was playing in an organized league by four. He never had any doubt that he would continue towards a career in hockey, as a deep-rooted passion for the game exists, quite literally, in his blood.
“Hockey is a huge tradition in my family,” he continued. “Actually, I get it from both sides. My dad was a multi-sport athlete who played at Colgate in the late 1970s. On my mom’s side, well, she had five brothers, and they all played. My grandfather played on the last undefeated team at Clarkson back in the mid-1950s, I believe.
“So, there were a lot of immediate influences and I guess it was pretty inevitable that I would eventually lace up the skates. I’ve been playing pretty much since I can remember and my passion for the game has only grown with age and experience.”
With regard to other influences on his game while growing up, Rheault did not hesitate.
“Mario Lemieux,” he quickly referenced. “He was simply the best. Those Pittsburgh Penguins teams of the early 1990s were fun to watch and were really dominant. That was probably the closest thing I ever had to a favorite team, because I’ve always enjoyed just following the NHL on the whole.
“Lemieux was a player I admired simply because I was in awe of how easy he made the game look. He did things that would leave you shaking your head every game. He’s definitely a player I would say influenced me to some degree, and someone, obviously, I’d love to emulate.
“But, then again, who wouldn’t?”
A Difficult Decision
By the time Rheault joined the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the EJHL at the start of the 2003-04 season, he was already being projected as a potential impact player at the NCAA level. Efforts to recruit his services, however, came down to the only two schools he was truly interested in – Providence and the University of New Hampshire.
“It was an extremely difficult choice,” he explained. “Being from New Hampshire, that was the obvious choice. Most players who make a name for themselves up here go there, naturally. It’s the home state team, the home state school. But, I visited Providence and fell in love with the campus and the area.
“What it really came down to, though, was my relationship with [Providence assistant coach] Dave Berard. I had known Coach Berard since I was 13. He coached me various times, at some of the selects festivals I competed in with Team New England, so there was a real comfort factor there.”
After officially committing to Providence, Rheault proceeded to complete one of the most dominant seasons in EJHL history by leading the Jr. Monarchs to the league championship. He collected an astonishing 95 points (49 goals, 46 assists) during the regular season, ultimately earning him both the circuit’s Rookie of the Year and MVP honors.
“I had a great experience playing in the EJHL for the Jr. Monarchs,” he said. “It’s a great preparatory league for the NCAA, and the [New Hampshire] program is first class all the way. Though I only played one season there, it really helped get me ready for the next level.”
Rheault went to make a near-seamless transition to the collegiate level, turning in an outstanding freshman campaign at Providence in 2004-05. The then-18-year-old finished third on the Friars, and first among the team’s first-year players, with an impressive 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) in 36 games.
Along the way, Rheault was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week on two occasions, finishing eighth in the conference among freshmen in scoring.
“Jon turned in a very fine freshman season for us,” said then-Providence head coach Paul Pooley after the campaign. “He’s a real hard-working kid who certainly has the ability to be an elite player in this conference. The more experience he has, the better he’s going to get.”
Added Rheault: “My first season at Providence was a real learning experience, but I think I did well overall. It was a good start, a good foundation to build off of, and just a nice way to get my feet wet at the collegiate level.”