Nic Roussel lines up for a faceoff in the Major Midget league during the 2018-2019 season. (Vancouver NE Chiefs/Special to The News).

Nic Roussel lines up for a faceoff in the Major Midget league during the 2018-2019 season. (Vancouver NE Chiefs/Special to The News).

Former Rustler to play for Smoke Eaters

Nic Roussel leaving Queens to chase hockey dreams

Maple Ridge’s Nicolas Roussel has been signed by the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BC Hockey League.

Playing Junior A hockey this season means leaving Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, where he studied engineering during the last school year. He has been attending on a chancellor scholarship, which is awarded to students with superior academic ability and proven leadership qualities.

“It was one of the best years of my life,” he said.

But getting back on the ice after a season away reignited his passion for hockey. Roussel has two years of BCHL eligibility left. He plans to chase his hockey dreams, hopefully to an NCAA scholarship – which is the goal of many BCHL players. He will continue taking courses from Queens online.

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With his academic excellence, if Roussel can continue to develop his hockey skills in Junior A, he could become the kind of player who draws attention from Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale or Brown.

“He’s a really hard worker, and a great kid,” said Dave Lige, the executive director of Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey, who has worked with Roussel over his minor hockey career.

Lige said Roussel was not always considered a “blue chipper” among the association’s hockey prospects, and he has been a late bloomer.

Roussel said he was always a small kid. He played his first year of midget in Maple Ridge at 145 pounds, sometimes lining up against “full-sized men, with beards.”

He couldn’t be intimidated, and developed a battle level that made up for a lack of size. Once he grew to 5’10” and 170 pounds, he had an advantage.

“I have a bit of an edge, because I’ve always had to work harder.”

A transitional season was when he played for the Vancouver NE Chiefs under-18 team in 2018-2019. It was the year he found a new passion for the game, and a new position. The team did not need another defenceman, so Roussel transitioned to forward.

“I love it. I wish I had jumped to forward earlier in my career,” he said.

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Instead of chasing back for pucks with a forechecker on his back, suddenly Roussel was the guy dumping the puck into the corner, and crashing into a defenceman as he chased it down. He learned to forecheck hard, play a tough physical game and fearlessly block shots.

Roussel’s defensive awareness made him a first-line penalty killer and a shutdown forward who was matched against the other team’s top line. It’s a role he is well suited to, and one he embraces.

He had a quiet regular season statistically, scoring seven goals and 12 points in 38 games. But he found more ways to create offence as the season progressed, and had a great playoffs, with three goals and four points in five games. He said the intensity and edge of post-season hockey suits his style.

“Playoff hockey – that’s the hockey I love to play.”

He was already a known quantity to the Smoke Eaters. He played for former head coach of the Chiefs in the BC Major Midget League Jeff Urekar, who is now the assistant GM in Trail. Tim Fragle is the GM and head coach, and new to the team this year.

Roussel was named to the team on Sunday, after a weekend ID camp.

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