It's All In The Family
ALL IN THE FAMILY
No one's talking, but there's something weird going on up in Charlesbourg.
It's a small borough of Quebec City overlooking the St. Charles River that's known for an old Jesuits' chapel and a grist mill dating back to 1833.
Could be the water, maybe grandma's crock stew, or perhaps it's the maple syrup. Whatever it is, it's working for the Chouinard boys.
"Yeah, it's a family business," admits Marc Chouinard. "My dad and all my uncles, we all played junior in Quebec for the Ramparts, and my cousin played with me two or three years ago in Minnesota as well."
Cousin Eric has 90 NHL games on the resume. Uncle Guy skated for Calgary and St. Louis in the '70s and '80s, and father Pierre played with Guy Lafleur in junior.
Then there's Marc, the 29-year-old centre who's carrying the torch these days. He's the one charged with keeping up the Chouinard name.
He's not sure why the game runs so deep in the family's blood -- and claims there's no special secret to it -- though when pressed, he defers to the elders.
"You would have to ask the older guys I guess," he said laughing. "But growing up, hockey was sort of something that was around us all the time. At Christmas and New Years and all the family events, whatever it was that was on TV or being discussed at the table always centered around hockey."
Despite a bounty of rinks up in northern Quebec and a family of competitive hockey players, Marc insists the Chouinard boys never get out for a family scrimmage.
"I don't know if it's because of my dad -- he's the oldest -- but maybe he wouldn't want to play when he's not at his best or something. But there's a lot of pride in the family. They still like to talk about how good they were."
Talk rarely falls on Marc and his game. Surprisingly, the family's pretty good about not giving advice, his dad especially.
"Growing up he talked a little more. Now he's just enjoying watching me play," he said.
Which isn't that often given Chouinard's hockey history. He started out in Anaheim in 2000.01, then spent the past two seasons under the tutelage of trap-master Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota before signing a new two-year deal with Vancouver this summer.
The hope is Chouinard will bring some of the defensive secrets he gleaned in Minnesota to the Canucks depth lines, especially his skills above the red dot. Based on his 52.7 per cent success rate in the face-off circle last season, Chouinard's already best draw on the team.
"When your fourth centre wins the draw more than 50 per cent of the time, you start with the puck and good things are bound to happen," said Chouinard, who describes himself as a responsible, defensive-minded centre.
"I don't know what it is exactly. I mean, I practice it and I've played for some teams with some great centermen, so I guess I learned from some great guys. That's just the way it is. I've always had a knack for it I guess."
Adam Oates and Steve Rucchin are just two former teammates who have helped Chouinard.
This year, it's Chouinard's turn to do the tutoring for guys like Hank Sedin and Ryan Kesler. And that's one of the big reasons he decided to sign with the Canucks; general manager Dave Nonis was very clear about what he wanted.
"I had been to Vancouver quite a few times playing for the Wild. Knowing first of all that it was an unbelievable city, and then coming back to Canada was good also. But the fact that when they showed interest a little bit, I knew what they expected right off the bat. That made a big difference."
It doesn't hurt that there are more sushi joints than parking spots in downtown Vancouver. Chouinard's a self-confessed sushi freak. And then there's the whole "Hollywood North" thing.
Coming from "sleepy" Quebec, Chouinard was drawn moth-like to the bright Hollywood lights when he broke into the league with Anaheim and admits he became somewhat of a movie-biz addict.
"I've tried to settle down a bit with that," he said with a laugh, "but Us, In Touch, People...I have all those magazines. I try not to let it get out of hand, but every now and again I'll take a look at what's going on.
"Some of the guys know that I have scoops about what's going on in Hollywood, the movies, the actors, the actresses, whatever it is. I lived in California for three years, and it's kind of close. I was able to go to a few premiers and got involved with that."
Most memorably, Chouinard rubbed shoulders with Lisa Marie, Christina Aguilera, Nelly and Jennifer Love Hewitt at a benefit concert.
"It's not like I hung out with any particular stars or anything like that, but when you're so close, you see many celebrities walking around in the streets, and it's fun. Coming from Quebec it's the furthest thing away from Hollywood, and it was a good thrill for me."
Nobody's more familiar with Chouinard's Hollywood fixation, his guitar playing, and passion for raw fish than Port McNeill-native Willie Mitchell, another key brick in Minnesota's fortifications the past four seasons.
"Yeah, me and 'Chouinny' worked the defensive zone once or twice together there in Minnesota," said Mitchell, who admits the familiarity between the two will make it easier for both to make the transition to a new team.
"To be honest with you, he's just a real quiet guy; I think he would tell you that himself. He really drums to his own beat.
"He's quiet and he just goes about playing the game. That's just Chouinny. He's a guy who likes to compete and likes to win even though he's a quiet guy, and that shines through," Mitchell noted.
While Chouinard might be the one giving all the defensive assistance on the ice, Mitchell says it's "Chouinny" who needs the help off it.
"Sometimes with people like that it's tough to get a read on them," said a wide-grinned Mitchell. "And me being a teammate of his for an extended period of time in Minnesota, I guess I can help out the other guys as far as getting a read on him."
Mitchell -- who's known for taking friendly pokes at teammates -- plays up Chouinard's quiet side.
"I can't be tough on him yet," said Mitchell. "I will be later in the year. He has a few quirks. I let those out later on."
Whether those quirks have anything to do with Charlesbourg hockey rituals or secret family training regimes remains to be seen. As long as Chouinard wins pucks and helps out behind the blue line, nobody's going to mind if he doesn't say much.