Notre Dame is a Great School of Life

Notre Dame on behalf of Vincent Lecavalier

Look Vincent!” said my fourteen-year-old brother Philippe, pointing at the photo. “That’s me playing with the Notre Dame Hounds. Look at that cool jersey! In this one you can see all the other kids in the stands cheering, and there’s our coach. Just think, in a few more years you can do this too!” I was nine years old, and from that moment on I knew that when I was older I’d be going to Notre Dame to play hockey, and be a Hound. I grew up in Ile Bizard in Montreal, Quebec, with my brother Philippe and my sister Genevieve. I started skating when I was two-and-a-half, and my mom says that at eighteen months I was stick-handling with mini sticks in front of the TV. It was really then that I started falling in love with hockey and dreaming of playing. By age four I was playing hockey in a league. My dad had played junior hockey until he was nineteen so as I went through the levels of minor hockey he was my coach. When it came to school, our parents wanted us to be bilingual so I went to immersion schools where I learned to speak and write well in English. I was a good student and, like every other boy, I dreamed of playing in the NHL, but
for me it was really just a dream. Once or twice a year my dad would take us to a hockey game at the Forum to watch the Montreal Canadiéns. I was a huge Steve Yzerman fan so I loved it when Detroit was in town and I could watch him play. I was probably the
only person in the stands wearing a Detroit Redwings jersey! As Captain he led the Wings to three Stanley Cup Championships, and he was really the one who inspired me when I was younger. 

At some point my dad met a guy in Quebec City who was recruiting for Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. He learned all about the school, and Philippe decided to go there. While my dad may have dreamed of us making it into the NHL, his real goal was for us to get an excellent education and he thought Notre Dame was the right way to do that. He also learned that a lot of American College scouts come to the Notre Dame games, another good reason for my brother to go. When Philippe graduated as a four year Hound he had earned a full hockey scholarship to Clarkson University.

Whenever Philippe came home I would hear all about Notre Dame, and he would show me the pictures. So because I knew from the time I was nine that I wanted to go there, I was really prepared. Then, just like my brother, I left home at fourteen for grade nine. This was tough for my parents - a real sacrifice because we are a very, very close family. I know they were sad, but they wanted what was best for us and they felt strongly that was Notre Dame.

Although Philippe had prepared me well I was still a bit nervous. When I arrived the very first person I met was Brad Richards who had the bunk right next to me. We’re exactly the same age, and we became best friends. We were hanging out every day, and we were very, very close right from the get-go. I also quickly met the senior students who were dorm leaders, and they all knew my
brother! Two brothers in grade twelve, Jeff and Jason Ulmer, both knew Philippe and lucky for me they really liked him. They’re great guys and they made me feel very comfortable. Like any kid I loved to play hockey more than I loved studying, but I’d always been a good student with marks usually in the low eighties, and it was the same at Notre Dame. My goal was to make it to college like my brother, so school was a priority.

I also learned right away about Father Murray and the history of the school. He was amazing, and I think his passion and the legacy he left is what makes the school what it is today. The way the school is run with everyone having responsibility for something, you grow up very quickly. There’s a very structured routine with a good balance of work and play; you quickly adjust to it and soon you enjoy it. Every night you have chores just like at home, and there are consequences when you don’t meet your responsibilities. You learn a lot about hard work and self discipline. You make lots of very good friends, and it is just a great school run by very good people and excellent teachers. The school community is so special, and very important. Wilcox is a small town, and the students are always involved in community service projects there. I was very moved by the school motto Struggle and Emerge because, really, that’s what life is. You learn that you will go through some tough times, and you struggle and find your way. As far as the spiritual part, I was raised Catholic and went to Church every Sunday, so I really appreciated that aspect of the school, and I think it brought a great deal to me.

When it came to hockey there were kids from all over Canada who were really good players. During that first month I was a bit afraid of not making the Bantam AAA team, which was coached by Terry O’Malley. But Brad Richards and I ended up being the only two first-year players to make it that year. Terry is such a great guy and just an amazing coach. He knows so much about
hockey - little things you never learned before, and how to really play defensive hockey. He was tough but fair; a great, great person. Now it was me travelling around Saskatchewan playing hockey as a Notre Dame Hound, and it was special because I’d known for so long I’d be doing it. I’d seen the pictures of Philippe wearing the jersey, and now I was wearing it, and I really felt I was on the right path.

In grade 20, my coach was Denny Ulmer, and he was also really great. His sons, Jeff and Jason, also both made it to the NHL. I played Bantam AAA until about February when I moved up to Midget AAA. One thing that made a real difference was the off-rink training available in the gym. To learn how to train properly at age fourteen was a real advantage. You’re in a school where
almost everyone is an athlete, everyone wants to be better, and everyone is always pushing each other. This environment really sets everyone up to keep getting better and do their best. It’s very competitive, and this experience makes it easier when you get to the next level.

That year we won at the Bantam AAA level in the Edmonton/St. Albert tournament. There were a lot of big strong guys, and we were playing the best teams and it was definitely the highlight of my time at Notre Dame. I really grew up in those two amazing years, and when I finished grade ten I was more confident and more disciplined, and my attitude was better. However, I still didn’t know if I would go to college like my brother, or decide to play Junior Hockey. I did not yet have a clear vision of the NHL in my future. One option was to finish high school at Notre Dame and play on their Junior A Team. This would have left me the option of playing college hockey in a couple of years. The other choice was to try the route of playing Junior Hockey right away, as perhaps a faster way to the NHL. But after you play even one game of Junior you can never play college hockey, and I’d always wanted to go to college so this was a very tough decision. After numerous discussions with my parents, in the end we decided to take a chance on my going up to Junior in Rimouski and finishing high school there, and it turned out to be the best thing for me. So I left Notre Dame after grade ten while Brad Richards opted to stay.

I chose Rimouski Oceanic for Junior because of their great educational program. I billeted with a family for two years and went to a private school called Claire-L’Heureux Dube for grades 11 and 12. The school was right next to the arena so I could go to practice in the morning, and then go to class right after. They were really good, and the teachers really helped when I had to miss classes.
Playing Junior Hockey is a very demanding life; you play seventy-two games - all by bus. You’re on the road all the time, you miss a lot of school and it’s very hard to keep your grades up. It’s more travelling than we do in the NHL, and much harder. It was a tough year at age sixteen, but when the scaling lists came out in December I was startled to discover I was on top!

It was then I started to realize I actually had potential. My goals changed, my dream was born, and my focus became truly to make it to the NHL.

At the beginning of my second year in Rimouski Brad Richards joined me and it was great having him back as my teammate. Then, in 1998 when I was only eighteen, I got drafted first overall by Tampa Bay. Back then only one or two guys were making the teams at eighteen so I had no idea if I could make it. Being rated number one I definitely felt that pressure, so that summer I really worked hard, and in September I made the Tampa Bay Lightning!

Realizing I had made it to the NHL was just the best feeling in the world. My first game with the Lightning was at the beginning of October against the Florida Panthers. At eighteen, an age when most kids are just starting college, I was basically alone and playing professional hockey with guys much older. But my time at Notre Dame had matured and prepared me for being away from home. Because of Notre Dame I was ready to live on my own. Then, two years later in 2000, Brad Richards also made it to Tampa Bay
so once again, and for the third time, we are teammates and best friends and sharing the experience. I’ve been with Tampa Bay now for fourteen years and over those years I’ve played with and against a number of Hounds like Rod Brind’Amour, Curtis
Joseph and James Patrick. Wendel Clark was a team mate for a time. There are some young Hounds coming onto the NHL scene now like Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz. And Keith Aulie who is with Tampa right now also went to Notre Dame.

Then, in an interesting turn of events, in May 2010 my childhood inspiration, Steve Yserman, became our general manager. Over the years I’ve been proud to play with Team Canada and in 2004 Brad Richards and I played in the World Cup in Toronto and we won, just an incredible experience. In 2006 I went to the Olympics in Torino, again with Brad, which was really a great experience, even though we came home without a medal. But in 2004 Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup, and I can honestly say that
nothing beats winning a Stanley Cup. It’s not just a two-week tournament, it’s a whole year and it starts at training camp. You build a team, then you’ve got your ups and downs during the season, and that’s almost the easy part, because after that you’ve got the play-offs, which is really a roller coaster ride. You’re winning a game, losing a game; losing game 5 you’re down 3-2, but then you come back and win game 6 and tie it up. When you win a Stanley Cup there are so many emotions you’re just exhausted. When they started the countdown of ten seconds left I was on the bench and I just wanted to jump onto the ice. There was so much emotion. Watching the clock I couldn’t wait until it went to zero, because you just never know what will happen. For me, winning the Stanley Cup was the ultimate realization of a lifetime dream. That night Brad Richards and I had a big Notre Dame “Struggle and Emerge” right above our lockers. It’s something we’ve taken with us wherever we go; when you’ve been to Notre Dame, it’s something that’s just always in you.

Today I’m living in Tampa Bay with my wife Caroline and our two small children, Victoria and Gabriel. Family is very important to me, and I’m still very close with my mom and dad and my brother and sister. So for me naturally, with my kids, family is everything, and nothing tops that - not even a Stanley Cup.


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