Story and photos by Mark Newman
Danny Groulx is a player with potential.
In hockey parlance, Groulx has a lot of “upside.” In other words, he has gifts and talents that -- given the right development --could someday turn him into a National Hockey League player.
The Detroit Red Wings organization likes Groulx’s “upside.” They like his offensive potential. They like the abilities he showed in junior hockey to put points on the board.
Groulx (it’s pronounced “groo”) is only 21 years old. He completed his junior career as the highest scoring defenseman in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history, amassing 332 points in 351 games.
Last year, Groulx recorded 29 goals and 83 assists for 112 points in 68 games during the regular season. He became a First Team All-Star selection for the second consecutive year while leading Victoriaville to the Memorial Cup finals.
Groulx, in fact, capped his breakout season by being selected as the Most Valuable Player of the Memorial Cup, the round-robin tournament that pits the best junior teams from across Canada.
His achievements are even more significant in light of the fact that he was an undrafted free agent. He was bypassed in the annual NHL Entry Draft because teams either questioned whether he was a good enough skater or whether he was good enough defensively.
What they didn’t take into account was that Groulx is a good listener.
Groulx has heard the criticisms from his detractors. Determined to prove the naysayers wrong, he is resolved to show that he can play the game from end to end, with or without the puck.
“When you work hard and you believe in something, only good things can happen,” says Groulx, who grew up playing hockey in the province of Quebec just south of the Montreal area.
Hockey conversation has always dominated the dinner table at the Groulx household that includes his parents, Daniel and Colette, younger brother Martin and little sisters Stephanie and Karolyne.
“We’re all about hockey,” Groulx says, adding that even his sisters play the game. “If I ever get a chance to play in the NHL, it will be big day in my family, for sure.” The interest of the family, who had four Victoriaville season tickets, extends to his grandparents. “My dad’s father missed only one game last season and he didn’t miss many in past years.” Groulx, who started playing hockey at the age of five, has always been a student of the game.
It’s helped that Groulx has had a number of good teachers over the years, starting with his father, a general manager for Siemens, who had played junior hockey with his twin brother Richard.
“He went to all my games,” Groulx says. “He was not my coach -- you can only have one coach -- but he knows the game pretty good and he would always give me tips.” Groulx says the advice was always of the helpful variety rather than disparaging criticism. “After a game, it’s always fun to talk about what you did well and what you did badly. Coaches don’t do that, so it was good to be able to talk to someone.” Pointers also came from his agent in Quebec, Richard Paquette, as well as his coaches and teammates.
“All the scouts said when I was a teenager that I was pretty good offensively, but defensively they weren’t too sure about me,” Groulx says.
“I think I did improve, but I know I still have to work on my defense to get to the next level.” This past September marked the second time that Groulx attended the Red Wings’ training camp in Traverse City, although this time he was happy to be there under a Detroit contract.
Groulx, who was a non-roster invitee a year ago, felt he made a much better impression this time around.
“I thought I had a great rookie camp last year, but I was a little nervous when the older guys came,” he recalls. “This year I tried not to think about it -- just play my game and do what I do best.” Attending training camp with the defending Stanley Cup champs can be a heady experience for a rookie, let alone one who is trying to convince an organization of his worth.
“You don’t want to be too impressed, but inside you’re going, ‘Whoa, I just made a pass to Nick Lidstrom and took a shot on net.’ It seems pretty incredible,” Groulx says. “It’s hard to believe that you just made a pass to Chris Chelios.
“It’s great to be playing with all these guys who are future Hall of Famers, but you try your best not to think too much about it. You’ve got to stay focused and play your own game.” Groulx says it helped that the Red Wings veterans go out of their way to make the younger players feel comfortable.
“Mathieu Dandenault and Luc Robitaille were really great with me,” Groulx says, adding that the conversations were frequently conducted in French. “They talked to me, worked with me and helped me quite a bit. I really appreciated it.” It was that rapport that convinced Groulx to sign with the Wings, although he was willing to entertain other offers.
“I liked the Red Wings organization and I really like the atmosphere in their room. All the guys are friendly and they all want to make you feel a par t of something. They still seem hungry -- a lot of them are at the stage in their careers where they’re just willing to do what’s best for the team.” The Red Wings were actually interested in signing Groulx last season, but he decided to return to juniors for a fifth year.
“I was looking forward to playing in the American Hockey League last year but they wanted me to play in the East Coast Hockey League,” he says.
“I knew I had to have a good year if I wanted a contract, so there was a little bit of pressure last season, but it was a good thing because I couldn’t sit back and watch. I think I made the right decision.” Groulx is finding points don’t come quite as easily at the pro level, but he isn’t too worried about the scoresheet at this point. He knows the points will come.
“With the Griffins, we have great coaches and great veterans who know the game,” he says. “I can only improve if I’m all ears and I continue to work hard.” He has made strides in skating, although he admits that he still has room for improvement. “When I was younger, I was pretty heavy for my size, so I was just slow,” he says. “I think I’ve gotten better with the years.” Groulx, who has been working with weights since he was 13, has also improved his upper body strength. His offensive play has been in good shape from a fairly young age. “My strength has always been my vision,” he says.
“I enjoy making things happen on the ice.” Listening and learning. Watching and working. These are the things that Groulx must do if he is going to become more than a player with potential, a guy who makes the most of his opportunity.
“I was more than glad to sign with the Wings,” Groulx says. “The players here are great examples for the younger players like me. These are guys who want to win. You can’t ask for more than that.” It’s that kind of dedication that Groulx is trying to pass along to his brother Martin, who is only 15 years old and has some good “upside” himself.
“He’s having a great start, so he might get drafted into juniors after this season,” Groulx says. “I don’t know, but maybe I’ll get a chance to play with him in a few years.” Groulx still lives with his family in St. Constant, Quebec, a city of about 25,000 just south of Montreal. The family is building a new home in nearby Candiac, although Groulx talks about renting his own place next summer.
For now, he’s more concerned with proving that he can play at the AHL level. “Grand Rapids seems like a great city,” he says. “It’s a nice feeling seeing so many people into hockey. I’m really glad to be playing here.”