PHOTO: Brandon Anderson/USHL Images
One of the most highly touted free agents to recruit this summer came in the way of forward Philippe Lapointe, who became available after the United States Hockey League’s Central Illinois Flying Aces folded. There were many suitors for the 5’11”, 194-pound two-way forward and some of the biggest reasons the University of Michigan commit chose Trail was to do with how passionate the city is about hockey, the way the organization is run and the man behind the bench.
“The biggest aspect for me when looking at a team was the investment in the coach and (Jeff) Tambellini really believes in me and we had a good connection when we first met and said things that really caught my attention. I think the biggest thing is that relationship between a coach and a player and having that communication to help develop my game as best as possible and it felt like a perfect fit for me.”
“Trail is the perfect, small hockey town that cares a lot about this team and was a big reason in why I chose to come there. With the owner there in Rich Murphy, the facility has everything a player needs to succeed and bring a championship to Trail.”
Upon committing to the Smoke Eaters for the 2019/20 season, the Hinsdale, Illinois native was appointed team Captain by General Manager and Head Coach Jeff Tambellini, a challenge that Lapointe is looking forward to facing, “It’s going to be a transition for me and having returning guys like Tyler Ghirardosi and Kent Johnson, amongst others, coming back will make that transition easier for me and knowing the culture around the team.
“In my conversations with (Coach) Tambellini, I have a good idea of that winning culture that we want to bring into the locker room and having those guys from last season will help establish that as well.”
PHOTO: Brandon Anderson/USHL Images
Lapointe spent the 2018/19 season with a pair of teams in the USHL, beginning his campaign with the Lincoln Stars before being traded to Central Illinois and was able to amass 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points in his time with the Flying Aces, including 50 penalty minutes. It was season that, for Lapointe, will always be one he will remember, “It was tough getting traded from Lincoln but hockey is a business and I fully understand that. The Stars were great to me and I had a lot of connections with that team that I will keep for a long time.”
“Once I got to Central Illinois, I was able to get comfortable with the systems and play a lot of minutes and elevate my play and production with the help of my teammates, who made the transition for me that much easier, especially being traded for the first time in my career. It was a good fit for me and I was happy with my own personal play and it was a fun year with those guys and I made a lot of connections.”
When the name Lapointe is brought up in hockey, it is one that garners plenty of attention and for very good reason. Martin Lapointe played in 991 career NHL games including winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and played a big part in helping his son chose Trail as a destination to play, “He’s always been a role model for me, looking up to him throughout my career and when he played. This process was a stressful one for me, trying to figure out where to play and he was nothing but supportive in my decision in picking Trail and is really excited for me along with my whole family.”
There is very little time for rest in the offseason with the amount of work that players put in to keep themselves in shape and prepared for the rigors of the upcoming season. Lapointe is no exception to that, working with trainer Ian Mack in the city of Chicago and training with pro players is a good measuring stick for the 19-year-old, “I’m in the gym about five or six days a week working on not just getting stronger but also my mobility and stability, making sure my body is prepared for a long season because that is what I want to bring to Trail.”
The NHL Entry Draft takes place at the end of the week was ranked as the #242 skater and could hear his name called in Vancouver. Lapointe has some experience in dealing with NHL clubs, playing in the Pittsburgh Penguins development camp a summer ago, “It was a great learning experience and having the chance to make some new connections with people.
“It was good to take in everything from an NHL organization and the Penguins did an outstanding job at displaying what they do day in and day out and it was an exciting experience to be a part of.”
Lapointe and the rest of the Smoke Eaters will be in Trail for the team’s Main Camp at the end of August while season tickets for the 2019/20 campaign are available for purchase at the Smoke Eaters office, which is open 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday-Friday as well as online at www.shop.trailsmokeeaters.com.