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Théo Rochette is the rising star of the year

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Théo Rochette is the rising star of the year

Théo Rochette was considered one of the most promising talents of his year worldwide. However, he was passed over in the NHL draft for health reasons. Now he is proving in Lausanne that it was a mistake to underestimate him.

The second championship title within a year? Théo Rochette is aiming for his next coup with Lausanne.

Fabrice De Gasperis / Imago

It wasn’t that long ago that ice hockey player Théo Rochette lifted a chunky trophy towards the sky: As captain of the Remparts de Québec, he won the Memorial Cup, the most important competition in Canadian junior hockey, last June. 15,000 people came to the play-off home games. And when the team landed in Quebec after winning the trophy, 5,000 supporters were waiting at the airport. “I didn’t have to pay for my food in the restaurants after that,” says Rochette, laughing. And: “Everyone in town actually knows you, I had to learn how to deal with it.”

The extensive Canadian junior ice hockey is a big thing, the most important players are revered like pop stars. Only: They earn significantly less, usually around $100 per week. This was the case for Rochette for five years. Hardly anyone stays in the three top leagues Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) for that long; they primarily serve as a springboard into the professional business, in which, at least in North America Millions are gushing. But Rochette says: “It was worth staying. We should have won the title a year earlier, so I still had unfinished business.”

Rochette has actually already secured the title of “Youngster of the Year”.

It was the right decision and allowed Rochette to ride off into the sunset as a shining champion. And the extended stay in the QMJHL seems to have been the ideal preparation for men’s ice hockey.

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Rochette, 22, showed no teething problems in his first year as a pro. It is already clear that Rochette will win the “Youngster of the Year” award presented by Swiss Ice Hockey in August. With 12 goals and 18 assists, Rochette was immediately the number 19 Swiss scorer in qualifying. And he also shines in the play-offs, with 9 points from 15 games making him the fourth most productive Swiss.

The trainer Geoff Ward puts a lot of trust in Rochette: the youngster is part of the Lausanne parade line with Antti Suomela and Jiri Sekac; he averages more than twenty minutes of ice time per game. Rochette impresses with his wit, speed and devilishly fast hands.

In some ways, Rochette is fulfilling an old promise this season. As a teenager, he was considered one of the most talented players of his generation – and a sure first-round NHL draft choice. But Rochette fell ill with Pfeiffer’s glandular fever, which set him back badly. Scouts told him he was too small, too skinny. “I hoped that the scouts and managers would understand my situation and that I might be drafted in rounds 5 to 7,” he says.

It remained the wish: he was passed over for two years in a row. “That wasn’t easy to process. I lost my self-confidence and couldn’t immediately use the disappointment as motivation. My coach Patrick Roy helped me a lot, he was more than just a coach for me and a very important reference person,” says Rochette.

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Roy, 58, won the Stanley Cup as the number 1 goalie with Colorado and is considered a firehead with a short fuse. But Rochette says: “He is very different from his public image. A fine, very humorous person who really cares about his players. Yes, he gets loud sometimes, but that’s the case with every coach. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had.”

The appreciation is definitely mutual. «Théo has improved so much. When I look at players who were drafted, I think it’s appalling that he wasn’t drafted,” Roy said. The scouts in Quebec, he was angry, were not doing their job properly. It’s worth keeping these glowing compliments in mind.

Because Roy has been head coach of the New York Islanders since January. One can certainly imagine him remembering his Quebec captain when it comes to improving the Islanders’ roster. Rochette’s contract at Lausanne HC runs until 2026 and he recently extended it. But the transfer agreement between Switzerland and the NHL would allow a move in the summer for compensation of $250,000.

Now he could quickly have a big career and the money after he has de facto played for pocket money for five years. With his first salary in Lausanne he bought a sofa and a car.

Rochette has a good chance of making his World Cup debut in Prague in May

The NHL is Rochette’s big goal, always has been; He has been working diligently to make this dream come true for many years. His father, the former top referee Stéphane Rochette, gave him his first pair of skates when he was two years old. He went through the youth levels at Lausanne HC, but as a teenager he spent the summers in Quebec, his second home, where he trained in a group led by striker Jonathan Marchessault from the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. The Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs have already invited him to screening training sessions.

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Rochette doesn’t have a preference, although the feeling of belonging isn’t that easy for him anyway: He has three passports – Swiss, Canadian and French – and he has already competed for the first two nations mentioned in the youth ranks. He has now completed his first senior international matches for Switzerland. And he has a good chance of making his World Cup debut in Prague in May.

Before that, they should be able to win their second championship title within a year. To achieve this, Lausanne needs a win on Tuesday in the Vaudoise Arena, as the outsiders are 1-2 behind in the play-off final series against the ZSC Lions. Maybe the collective can take a cue from Rochette, a young man who had to learn early on that in life the direct path doesn’t always lead to the goal.

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