Over the course of the first 14 months or so of the pandemic, the local sports scene grew very quiet.
Maybe that's why, very quietly, local hockey prospect Justin Dauphinais managed to secure himself a verbal NCAA commitment with the UMass Lowell River Hawks beginning next fall.
It also hasn't helped that since his minor midget year, the 19 year-old native of Valley East has played all of his hockey outside of Sudbury.
Mind you, local AAA fans will recall the 2018-2019 powerhouse North Bay Midget AAA Trappers team which included regional products Noah Lagrandeur, Gavin Brown and Dauphinais, all key contributors to the Great North Midget League championship-winning squad.
"I think it was a great year for me, personally," said the alternate captain preparing for his third winter with the Rockland Nationals of the Central Canada Hockey League.
"It was easy to have success individually given how well our team did. I think I progressed a lot that year; it opened up junior doors for me."
Dauphinais racked up 26 goals and 25 assists (51 pts) in 31 games, regaining some of the confidence in the offensive skills that he displayed regularly as a member of the AAA Sons in his youth.
It was a good stepping stone to his rookie year with the Nationals.
"You have to do everything faster every year you move up," said Dauphinais. "Even the work on the physicality part of my game had to go up. The start of the year was a little tough, just learning to get into the groove of Junior A hockey, to get used to that speed."
"But throughout the year, I improved a lot - it was a good rookie year for me."
He didn't blow the doors off the wall offensively, posting decent numbers for a 17 year old (5G-15A-60GP). Yet both UMass Lowell and Rockland noticed the intangibles, the potential, the latter adorning Dauphinais with an "A" in a pandemic filled campaign that produced five points in nine games for the 6'1" 185 pound forward.
Not counted up necessarily to pile up the points, Dauphinais knew that he still could offer plenty of value to his team. "You focus on your defensive game a lot more," he said. "You don't want to be out there making mistakes and getting bumped down the lineup even more."
With the first step of his NCAA commitment in place, Dauphinais was not about to use COVID-19 as an excuse. "With all of the practices that we had, we were really able to work on skills: speeds, hands, everything like that," he said.
"I think it helped my confidence, even though it sucked to just practice."
With one final season of junior hockey in the Ottawa region remaining, the young man with only 12 career penalty minutes to his name in Rockland wants to seal the deal with UMass Lowell, to make sure that he will head to the campus located about a half hour due north of Boston playing his best hockey ever.
"I expect to be one of the go to guys, an offensive guy, scoring maybe 20 goals or so, being a point producer," Dauphinais noted. "I am in a leadership role - that's a role I see myself playing. It's got to be consistent: game in, game out; shift in, shift out."
"Every shift has got to be my best shift."
All of which hopefully will create a season with plenty of noise for the future member of the UMass River Hawks.