Ottawa Senators’ winger Anthony Duclair looks right at home, smiling and leaning on his hockey stick; standing in the tunnel that leads to the Canadian Tire Centre ice surface. This is where Duclair, the Senators’ all-star, has been in the spotlight on so many occasions this season. Today, the light shines brightly again, quite literally, as he poses for our magazine cover. Duclair is fully unaware that fellow all-star Brady Tkachuk has stopped in his tracks, about to leave the building with Thomas Chabot and Chris Tierney.
Catching a well-liked teammate in mid-pose, smiling for the camera, and looking like a big deal; these are the moments that hockey players live for.
“Hey, Duke!” chirps Tkachuk. “Whatcha doin’, buddy? Duuuuuke!”
Tierney wants in on this too. “Duuuuuke,” Tierney bellows. “What’s goin’ on? What are you up to, Duke?”
The exchange is playful and brief. “They’re chirping me because I’d do the same thing if I caught them doing a photo shoot,” says Duclair, looking happy and comfortable – perhaps a hockey player who’s maybe found a place to hang his hat for a while. It’s definitely a welcome change for a player who’d been with five teams in his first five NHL seasons.
At last year’s trade deadline, Duclair was acquired from Columbus (along with two 2nd round draft picks) for winger Ryan Dzingel. Duclair had just been loudly and publicly criticized by Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella. That scolding, combined with the number of times he’d now been traded, led some analysts to suggest Duclair might not be in the league for much longer.
That was a terribly poor assessment. With J.G. Pageau’s departure (traded to the New York Islanders at the deadline), Duclair now ranks as the Ottawa Senators’ leading goal scorer this season and, as mentioned, represented the club at the 2020 NHL All-Star game.
Duclair sat down with Faces Magazine to discuss life as an Ottawa Senator, on and off the ice.
What was it like to play in your first NHL All-Star Game and what memories do you take away from it?
As a kid, you’re watching that event every year and to be part of that for the first time is just a dream come true, to be honest. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I’d actually be a part of it. It was a great experience for my mom; she had an awesome time and she knew a couple of the parents there too so it was nice for her to interact with a couple of players and their parents. Also, just being part of the fastest skater competition was pretty cool. To be placed in that top tier with some of the fastest guys in the league was truly a huge honour.
Tell us about this year’s team. Despite the club’s record, it seems like it’s a pretty close group.
We’re a really tight team. We’re a really young team as well. We have a lot of similarities and things we like to do off the ice. Guys are pretty tight in the locker room and, you know, it’s nice to see.
Individually, your season has had its highs and lows. How would you describe your season?
It’s been up and down like you said but, all in all, I think it’s been pretty cool; pretty fun. As a team, at the beginning of the season – probably the first 10 games – we weren’t playing the way we should be. Then we sort of took a turn where we took teams by surprise. We beat a lot of good teams; Tampa, Boston, teams like that, where they wouldn’t really expect us to beat them. But I think we were playing really hard. DJ brought in a game plan and we followed it to a T. So we were having success. Team success comes with personal success and I was lucky enough to go to the all-star game. Then there was the slump. Every good player in this league goes through that. But I stayed positive, compared to the past where I’d go through slumps and just get really down on myself and I’d just make things worse. This year I was getting chances, the puck was just not going in. I just stayed positive and good things will come off of that.
In a 9 game stretch back in December, you scored 11 goals. What’s it like to be “in the zone” like that?
When you get on those streaks, you’re obviously really confident. The puck just finds you. You’re playing well. Your linemates are playing well because of it. During that stretch in December, I felt like every time I got the puck I was just so confident in making the next play and doing whatever it took to help the team win. Not only myself, but I think the team was playing really well, so that allowed me to do my thing, play a little looser, and when the team’s doing well, everybody’s having fun.
You’re a restricted free agent on July 1st. What can you tell us about your contract discussions with the Senators?
Zero talks right now. We’re probably going to be waiting for the summer for that. I’m happy it’s going to go that way. I know I never talked about contracts in the past during the season. It’s always been summer. During the season, l just want to focus on playing well and doing whatever it takes to help the team win.
Do you feel like there’s a good chance you’ve found a home here in Ottawa?
Yeah, I think so. I think since last year coming in, it was a good fit for me. I told my agent that I wanted to come back. I really thought that I can grow here as a player and a person and I think I made the right decision just to come back on a one-year deal. The way things have been going this year, I definitely want to be back under D.J. (Smith) and to be part of the core of this team.
What has head coach D.J. Smith been like to play for?
He’s been awesome to me. I came here and it was a clean slate. He’s sort of his own coach, sort of a players’ coach. He’s in the locker room every day joking around with the guys and just really tight with everyone; very lively behind the bench. Personally, he’s helped me a lot; taking me aside, one-on-one to watch video and stuff like that; just supporting me and doing everything to help me be successful. A lot of the success I’ve had this year, the credit goes to him for sure.
When Tortorella criticized you publicly last year, did you brush those comments aside or did you use them as inspiration?
I brushed them aside. I know what type of player I am. I know what kind of person I am as well. I’ve always been a team-first guy. I’ve been a guy teammates can come to talk to and, you know, I’m not going to change for anybody. It was obviously a little struggle there in Columbus but, at the same time, I had a great time there. It was a great locker room and organization. Just to come here to Ottawa, it was good for me and it’s been a great fit. So I’m just happy to be here and happy to be part of the future.
Besides you, who would you say is most responsible for helping you get to the NHL?
Both my parents (Wendell and Dominique). They sacrificed so much for me and my little brother back home. They’d drive me to the ranks and I remember we’d have practices on Saturday mornings at like 4 or 5 a.m. My dad would bring me and there was just no questions asked. Sometimes I’d be on the ice, different practices like three, four times a day because I just loved it. I love skating and my dad saw that and really pushed me to be the best I can be. They did everything for me to have the right equipment and stuff like that. As a child, you don’t really see that but, as you grow older, you understand more what they’ve been through and you really appreciate what they’ve done for me. I wouldn’t be here without them.
Does your little brother play as well?
Yeah. He’s 17. He plays Midget AAA back home for the Lac-St. Louis Lions, the same Midget team I played for.
When did you realize you maybe had what it takes to play in the NHL?
I think I always knew as a kid. That was the only thing that was on my mind. You know, you get that question from your teacher like, “What do you want to do when you’re older?” Then you write it down on a piece of paper. It’s sort of a cliche story but it actually happened. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t play hockey. Honestly, like around Pee Wee or Bantam, just going to Montreal Canadiens games at the Bell Center; every time I walked in that rink, my eyes lit up. That was what I wanted to do and I wanted to work as hard as I could to reach this point. I knew it was going to be tough, but my dad really saw that in me and wanted to help me as much as he could to reach that dream.
What other memories do you have of going to NHL games as a kid in Montreal?
Just watching guys like Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Sheldon Souray with the big slap shot, Jose Theodore making huge saves. I didn’t go to games often because the tickets were so expensive but anytime we had a chance to go, we’d go.
If you have an off day or some down time, what kinds of things do you do for fun in Ottawa?
I’m really low key. I don’t do much to be honest. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ottawa or the other places I’ve played. I like my naps. Love my naps. I get to nap every day. Occasionally, I’ll go shopping but I do most of my shopping online, to be honest. I love movies and TV shows. I’ll do that on the plane all the time. Guys like to play cards as well.
What are you binging on TV right now?
(Laughs) I watch maybe 100 shows at a time. I’ll watch an episode of Suits, a little Walking Dead, Billions, Narcos, you name it.
Are you really still hanging in there with The Walking Dead?
I’m in the last season. I’m grinding through it. What is it, season 10 now? And we still don’t know how (the zombie takeover) all started? So it’s like, ‘Oh, man.’
Tell us about your playlist and maybe one song that pumps you up for the big game?
I’m going to have to look at my playlist here (starts scrolling). I’m a big hip-hop, rap kind of guy. A big Drake and Future fan.
Does your teammate Drake Batherson like that you’re a Drake fan?
(Laughs) I call him Drizzy (the musician’s nickname) and he loves it. Drake and Future have a new song I like that’s called “Life is Good.”
If you’re Ottawa Senators winger Anthony Duclair, with a new lease on your NHL life, one couldn’t imagine a better theme song.
by Steve Warne