Phillip Danault battles with Joe Piskula on Opening Night
Photo credit: Rockford IceHogs
By Chris Block
On November 20th, Phillip Danault got the call he’d been working toward for a decade.
That night, while the Blackhawks were in Calgary skating against the Flames, Danault received a call from Rockford IceHogs GM and Blackhawks’ director of minor league affiliates, Mark Bernard.
The news was good. Danault got word he was being called up to the NHL. He immediately began packing his bags and was to be on the first flight out of O’Hare airport to Edmonton the next morning. Danault arrived in northern Alberta just in time to join his new teammates for the final seconds of that Friday morning’s practice.
Danault, 21, made his NHL debut the very next night, on November 22nd in Edmonton. He centered the Hawks’ fourth line and even got in a few power play shifts after the game got out of hand at Rexall Place. Danault didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, though the Hawks won 7-1.
The next night Danault skated more limited minutes in a 4-1 loss at Vancouver. Danault’s parents were able to make the trip all the way from Danault’s hometown, Victoriaville, Quebec and were in attendance both games to witness their son’s landmark achievement.
Danault was still grinning ear to ear days after he was returned to Rockford following the game at Vancouver, where he was filling in for an injured Andrew Shaw.
“It was great, but I want to get back,” said Danault of his brief NHL call up.
“I got to work my ass here and do the little details and keeping working on my game.”
While the French Canadian’s English may still be unpolished in spaces, his game on the ice is coming together more quickly this year than last.
In 20 games with the IceHogs, Danault is tied for 5th on the team in scoring. He has 3 goals and 12 assists and his plus-8 rating is fourth on the team and second among forwards.
Danault wasn’t discouraged either by his quick reassignment. He said everyone on and around the Blackhawks was positive with him.
“They said I had a great start to the season and I was getting better on the ice and on my face offs, offensively and [defensively]. So I guess that’s why they gave me a shot up there.”
Rockford head coach Ted Dent echoed those sentiments, noting everything he heard from Danault’s brief recall was positive.
“I know they were happy,” Dent revealed. “I know Joel was happy with his play. There was nothing really said that he needs to work other than to just keep getting better every day.”
Danault said he didn’t get much instruction from Quenneville before his first game, but also said he didn’t need too much either.
“Just a little bit before the first game. He said to just do the little details, ‘Do your job. Do what you’ve been doing in Rockford. You’ve been good.’
“And he said to bring energy.”
Danault did just that, showing off his speed and tendency to hound puck carriers while paying mind to the structure and three-zone responsibilities Joel Quenneville demands of his centers.
Phillip Danault stretching prior to Nov 4th game vs Lake Erie
But not all young players share similar experiences with coach Quenneville. Some have found it more difficult to please him, while others are just very mindful of staying within Quenneville’s good house.
While a guest on Rockford area radio “Stone and Double T” morning show on November 25th, Matt Carey, who played a couple NHL games late last season after turning pro with the Blackhawks, commented on how intimidating it can be playing for the Blackhawks’ bench boss.
“If you get Q upset, it’s not the best thing to start off your pro career,” Carey said on WXRX radio.
“He’s probably one of the most intimidating coaches I’ve ever played for,” Carey continued. “It’s just the power of authority. He controls your fate. If you want to get in the good books, basically, you’ve got to play the right way. You’ve got to do the right things.”
One of the hosts then chimed in basically saying it can be easy to slide down into Joel Quenneville’s ‘dog house.’
“Yeah, I don’t know of any examples of that,” Carey replied, causing himself to chuckle and the two hosts to burst into laughter. “Oh, we do!” one host chimed in.
“Yeah, I don’t want to mention anyone,” Carey responded wisely.
Fresh upon his return to Rockford days after the Carey radio appearance, we asked Danault if he found Quenneville at all intimidating to play for.
“I’m not intimidated,” Danault said. “But when he says something you’ve got to take it and learn from it. And don’t do it again.”
It does help Danault that he plays a simple, grinding, north-south, energy game and that was what he was brought up to the NHL to do. He’s not a square peg trying to fit into a round hole like some other players the Hawks have tried to fill in spots in recent years.
Danault added that playing for Quenneville is fun.
“Everybody thinks he’s hard. He is hard, it’s just like you’ve got to do the things (right). You can’t do a mistake twice. He’ll tell you first, and then just don’t do it again. Do your job.”
Now that he’s back in the AHL, Danault says he’s focused on the IceHogs. In six games since his return, Danault’s pitched in 5 assists and is a plus-2.
Danault isn’t discouraged by the quick demotion. He says he knows if he keeps working hard and improving the way he has so far this season, the call will come again.
“No, because we got a very good team here,” Danault explained when asked if it’s hard to get up for the AHL after playing in NHL games. “So, it’s fun. It’s fun to play.”
Danault admitted the pace in the NHL is “way faster” than it is normally in the American League, but added several Blackhawks were quick to help him out.
“All the veterans there give me a couple inside (tips). I just take it and bring it here and get better. It was amazing and I want to go back. So I’ll work hard.
“I want to keep my pace here down in Rockford and you never know. If I get called up I’ll be more ready than I was.”