Erik Robichaud earned a promotion before the Moncton Wildcats reached the one-third mark of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season.
The 18-year-old rookie centre was moved up to the second line with left winger Devon MacAusland and right winger Marek Hrivik. That trio has been together for the past two contests.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Robichaud. “I’m obviously getting more ice time and when you play with good veterans like them you learn things. They’re two of the older guys on the team so they’ve been around the league longer.
“I watch what they do in practice and learn from them. When you get the opportunity to play on a line with them you want to make the most of it. It’s good for my confidence being moved up to the second line. I’m into the game more and it’s exciting. It’s an extra motivation for me to work hard and do everything possible to stay on the second line.”
Hrivik is tied for second in Wildcats scoring with 25 points, including seven goals. MacAusland is tied for fifth with 15 points, including eight goals. Both have played all 23 games.
“One of the things that I’m learning from them is having patience with the puck and just calming the play down,” said Robichaud. “When I first arrived here as soon as I got the puck I felt like I had to move it really quick and do everything as fast as I could.
“Playing with them, you notice that they have patience with the puck and take that extra couple of seconds to create space and make nice plays. Through the years, I’ve always put up good numbers offensively and this season it’s not going so well. I’ll get more chance to get points playing with them.”
Moncton, 11-11-1-0, is third in the Maritime Division and riding a three-game winning streak. It faces the Baie-Comeau Drakkar tonight at 7 p.m. and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles tomorrow at 4 p.m. in a pair of contests at the Moncton Coliseum.
The Wildcats outscored opponents 23-17 while winning four of the past six outings. They scored an average of 3.83 goals per game and had a 2.83 goals-against average during that span, a big improvement both offensively and defensively.
Robichaud, 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, is a native ofTimmins, Ont. and his first language is French. He was passed over in the Ontario Hockey League draft, but attended Erie Otters training camp as a free agent last season.
Eriereleased him and he returned home where he drew attention as Rookie of the Year in the Northern Ontario Junior A Hockey League. He finished second in league scoring and had 83 points, including 31 goals, in 61 games in the regular season and playoffs combined.
Robichaud, who signed with the Wildcats as a free agent, has four goals among five points in 19 games. He’s tied with right winger Brandon Shea for the team’s rookie scoring lead.
“I’m loving the major junior experience,” said Robichaud. “It’s everything that I expected it to be. It’s a big difference. It’s more intense. I would like to reach 25 points this season.”
This is Robichaud’s first time living away from home and he had never been to the Maritimes before.
“At the start, it was a little hard because I didn’t know anyone when I arrived inMoncton,” he said. “It’s different learning to live on your own, but things have gone pretty well.
“I love playing major junior and this is a nice city. Everyone’s friendly. It’s a great opportunity and I’m really glad I came here. I’m having lots of fun.”
Monctonhead coach Danny Flynn provided insight into the decision to move Robichaud up to the second line with MacAusland and Hrivik.
“We wanted to move Marek Hrivik from centre back to right wing because we think that’s his best position,” said Flynn. “Erik Robichaud has taken advantage of the opportunity to play centre on that line and get increased ice time.
“He’s got good offensive instincts and he works his tail off. He’s under sized, but he’s a battler and I think he’s done a solid job for us. I look for him to keep improving month by month as he gains experience and gets a feel for the league.”
The Wildcats head coach points out that he’s seen improvement in Robichaud since the start of the season.
“He’s smart and competitive with good speed,” said Flynn. “The challenge for him is that he has to learn how to be effective as a small player at this level. That will come as he gains experience.
“A lot of the defencemen in this league are big, strong and mobile and they’re able to outmuscle him. He has to be more gritty than them, outsmart them and use his speed to full advantage.”