Sudbury Nickel Barons co-captain Sebastien Leroux expected more from his third year of junior hockey. Perhaps just not this much more.
After recording 36 points in 47 games in his second year with the team, Leroux entered the 2012-13 campaign with greater expectations. "I knew I would have a decent year," he said. "I worked hard all summer."
"But I am a little shocked," he added quickly with a smile. "It's a good shock."
That shock and surprise comes from making the leap from a mid-level NOJHL scorer to the man topping the charts these days, averaging just a hair less than two points a game.
The youngest of two children in the family that has always called Rayside-Balfour home, Leroux acknowledges there were some signs throughout his hockey career. "Early on (in minor hockey), I was a smaller player," he said.
"I was a pretty good passer, more of a playmaker than anything. I think I had more growth later in my career than earlier," he added. Steadily progressing from the RBMHA houseleague ranks to "AA" rep teams and on to "AAA" hockey by the time his peewee hockey arrived, Leroux has, more often than not, felt completely comfortable on the ice.
"The biggest thing is the confidence level," he explained just before a rematch with the Elliot Lake Bobcats last week. "In hockey, if you don't have confidence, it shows on the ice."
"In my first year (2010-2011), I didn't get much ice time, so I couldn't really show off my skills because I had to play a certain role," Leroux stated. "This year is different."
Such is the pecking order that exists through many levels of hockey, from timbits through to the pros. It wasn't a new experience for Leroux. He had gone through the same stages, to some degree, while playing three years of midget "AAA" hockey with the Nickel City Sons.
In fact, Leroux doesn't even view the gradual metamorphosis that players undergo at different levels of hockey as necessarily a bad thing at all. "You fight through the hard times," he suggested.
"It makes you think a lot more about what you have to do to become a better player. My first year (in Sudbury), I rode the bench a lot, and that was hard. It's hard on the ego," he said.
"It's all about working hard and having the willpower to become better." Learning from those who have been there before, Leroux believes he absorbed a great deal from the likes of coaches Tom Faganely (Minor Bantam AAA), Brent Battistelli (Nickel City Midget AAA Sons) and Bryan Verreault (Sudbury Cubs), among others.
"They all had certain things about the way they coach that made an impact on me," said Leroux. Diversifying his game to fit the role he has played, the well spoken Laurentian University student is no one-trick pony.That balance to his game will come in handy as he looks to hopefully pursue his career within the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports), as the Voyageurs make a return to the ice in September.
"You learn different roles and it definitely helps you grow as a hockey player," said Leroux. "If I make the team (Laurentian), I'm going to be a role player. I'm going to have to come out as I did in midget and junior, as a third and fourth line player, and play my role."
For now, his role with the Nickel Barons is a big one. In a league that has been graced with more parity this year than anyone can recall seeing in a long, long time, the upcoming post-season presents all sorts of intriguing possibilities.
"I wouldn't bet my money on anyone yet," Leroux said with a laugh. "We (the Nickel Barons) feel pretty good going into the playoffs, but anything could happen."
True enough. A player who racked up 64 points in his first two years in the league could be sitting with 73 points in his third year, with ten games still to be played. Anything is possible with hard work and determination.