Daultan Leveille isn't limiting his options to the rink

Author: Bernd Franke, Postmedia News
Date: Jun 5, 2017

Daultan Leveille’s focus on his future isn’t so singleminded that he can’t see the forest for the hockey sticks, let alone the trees they’re made from.

While the one-time St. Catharines Falcons forward, who in 2008 became the first-ever junior B player selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, still hopes to make it to the NHL, he’s keeping his options – and his eyes – open.

After blowing out a knee in his senior year at Michigan State University and not being offered a contract after the Atlanta Thrashers, the team that drafted him, relocated to Winnipeg, Leveille has learned from often painful experience not to take anything for granted.

That’s why he spent two days recently in council chambers at Thorold City Hall studying first aid instead of enjoying the off-season playing golf or catching up with old friends.

And, on June 19 he will going to Mississauga to participate in an intense, month-long “hands-on” program, the culmination of a certification that started when he began studying the classroom portion online in February.

“It’s pretty much February to June, so when you go to do the practical part everyone is on the same page,” he said. “They will know all the necessary information to do the practical.”

The training sets the stage for becoming a volunteer firefighter, but Leveille doesn’t know when he will be taking that “next step.”

“At this point it’s important to have the certification, so whether it’s this summer or three years, or five years, when I start applying all depends on where I’m at in hockey.”

The Professional Hockey Players’ Association, which is working with the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute in Mississauga to offer the program to current and former players, also helped Leveille complete his bachelor of arts degree in psychology at Michigan State University in January.

“I left a bit early so I had a year of course work that still needed to be done.”

Leveille, who hopes to earn a masters degree in counselling, said having “other options” is important in a profession in which a career-ending injury could happen at any time.

“Once you’re done, you never know what avenue you really want to go.”

He played in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast last season but where his career takes him is “up in the air.”

“We’re not to sure at this point,” Leveille said. “Right now, my main concern is getting this course done and that will put my in mid-July.”

“But that time I’ll hopefully have a better understanding of what I want to do.”

The 26-year-old St. Catharines native and West Park graduate is confident he will be playing hockey next season.

“I’m not ready to stop playing,” he said. “Whether it’s in North America or in Europe, that’s kind of up in the air.”

Leveille hasn’t given up the dream of making it to the NHL, but over the years he has come to appreciate that being in the right place, at the right time – and in the right system – is a big part of making the jump.

“Sometimes, that’s all you need is to get that break, to get that chance.”

Having someone singing your praises within earshot of the decision-makers doesn’t hurt either when the time comes to fill roster spots.

“A lot of time what it takes is having a coach who likes you, who makes the jump to the next level and brings you along with him,” Leveille said.

“Sometimes, you just need that one person in your corner to pull you along with them, to give you the chance.”

He was playing for the St. Catharines Falcons selected in the first round, 29th overall, by the then Atlanta Thrashers in 2008, but the franchise didn’t retain his rights after it relocated to Winnipeg where it became the second incarnation of the Jets.

He could have agreed to an entry-level contract after he was drafted by the Thrashers, but the West Park Secondary School graduate opted to accept a scholarship offer from Michigan State University instead.

“I was too undersized at the time,” the now 6-foot, 185-pounder said. “I needed time to mature, to put on weight and get bigger, and Atlanta knew that.”

Leveille’s next chance to sign with the Thrashers was at the end of is junior year at Michigan State but he blew out his knee.

“It was bad timing in the sense that when I blew my knee out, right that summer was when Atlanta moved to Winnipeg,” he said. “They kind of cleared house, all their staff who were there when I was drafted, all the management.”

The franchise’s four-year option to sign Leveille expired during the first season in Winnipeg.

“They were trying to start their own identity and, for the most part, didn’t sign many of the Atlanta draft picks.”

For Leveille, the timing didn’t get much better the following year when the NHL locked out its players.

“Everyone was kind of pushed down that year,” he recalled. “You’re trying to jump into the American league your first year back, but there’s NHL players playing in the American league.”

He looks back to a season competing in France with fondness.

“That was the year I needed the ice time to feel myself again.”

Leveille suggested pro athletes — in particular, hockey players — are especially well-suited to become fireighters. Hockey players understand the importance of nutrition, are used to reacting quickly, working as a team and, thanks to long road trips on the bus, accustomed to long hours and being together for long stretches at a time.

“And we certainly know how to train and stay in shape,” he said with a laugh.

Leveille saw action with three ECHL teams last season, his fifth year as a pro. He scored three goals and collected five assists in 12 games with the Elmira, N.Y., Jackals, three assists in 10 games with the Wichita, Kan., Thunder before wrapping up the season close to home with a goal and an assist in nine games with the Brampton Beast.

He spent much of the season before in the ECHL with the Evansville Icemen – 24 goals and 20 assists in 55 games – but also saw action in the Amercian Hockey League netting one goal and collecting an assist in five games with the Binghamton Senators, the top affiliate of the Ottawa Senators.

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