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Goaltender embraces underdog battle

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With an undergraduate degree in communications, Jean-Philippe Lamoureux(notes) understands the Hollywood appeal of the underdog.

Take the fictional southpaw, Rocky Balboa. Or Rudy Ruettiger, the undersized and under-privileged kid who somehow cracked the University of Notre Dame football team as a walk-on.

Virtually everyone can relate to an athlete counted out by the masses. Virtually everyone cheers when that athlete rises above the challenges and proves the critics wrong.

So, yes, Lamoureux is far from a monster in the net at five-foot-10, 169 pounds. And, yes, he's an undrafted kid battling his way through the ranks for"a legitimate shot at making the big time.

But don't count him out.

"I understand it is going to be a battle for me," says the newest member of the Calgary Flames goaltending stable. "But that is nothing new."

He's battling with Leland Irving(notes) and Matt Keetley(notes) for two open jobs with Calgary's top farm team in Abbotsford.

"I'm undersized and I have been an overachiever all my whole career," he says, in a break from the action at the Flames' prospects development camp. "I have to keep doing that to get jobs. Slowly, but surely, I am moving up the ladder."

He's taking the road less travelled to the NHL with help from a hockey-mad family that passed down the value of hard work above all else.

No wonder the Sutter clan opted to give the 25-year-old a shot at employment.

"My dream has always been to play in the National Hockey League," he says. "I want to play for a living. I know it's a long shot to play in the NHL, but I love playing the game. If I'm relegated to playing in the minors, but I still get to play for a living, then I'll still be happy at the end of the day.

"I love to be at the rink."

He comes by that love honestly as the eldest of six siblings to play hockey at an elite level. Their dad, Pierre, moved to Grand Forks, N.D., as a young man and made the University of North Dakota hockey team as a goalie.

The underdog netminder backstopped the Fighting Sioux to two national titles.

"I guess you could say he was a blue-collar goalie," Lamoureux says. "He was a walk-on. He earned the respect of his teammates and was a four-year letterman.''

Pierre Lamoureux passed down the lessons of a successful underdog to his six children. And they listened.

"I'll go down the line," Jean-Philippe says, listing off his siblings with pride.

"I'm the oldest. Jacques is in his senior year at Air Force Academy. My brother Pierre-Paul, he played three years in Red Deer. He's a volunteer assistant coach at the University of North Dakota.

"My youngest brother Mario, he's going to be a junior at the University of North Dakota. And the twins are going to be sophomores at the University of North Dakota."

The twins just happen to be female. Jocelyne and Monique are forwards. Together, they represented the U.S. at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Unfortunately for me, I was in Portland, Maine," Lamoureux says. "So I was on the other coast there.

"But I got to watch every game. The luck of the draw, we never played when they played. I was like an excited parent on the Internet and watching TV. I wanted to see every possible second — just to see their hard work pay off. They were able to excel and be a big part of the tournament for their team."

Much of the twins' success can be drawn back to their days playing hockey with their brothers — and with the boys in organized hockey that sanctioned body contact.

As girls, they were always underdogs. They persevered.

But the most stirring family story of perseverance as likely belongs to Jacques Lamoureux. At 15, he wrote a farewell letter to his family, stood atop a parkade and pondered jumping to his death.

Fighting depression, he chose to live because he hated the thought of hurting his family by killing himself.

He carried on.

After turning his life around, Jacques agreed to go public with his struggles and speak to other students and suicide-prevention groups about his ordeal.

"At Air Force Academy, he's made himself available to people on campus if they need to talk about something or have similar issues," Jean-Philippe Lamoureux says. "He's really turned it into something positive.

"He was a Hobey Baker finalist in his first year there. Last year, he was the team's leading scorer. Going into his senior year, he's hoping to have similar success on the ice.

"It's really unbelievable. From the ultimate low point — that you don't ever really foresee for your sibling — to where he is now? It's so inspiring."

In his own life, Jean-Philippe plans to build on his personal successes.

He helped North Dakota get to the Frozen Four in every year of his collegiate career. He led the Alaska Aces to the Kelly Cup final and was named the East Coast Hockey League goaltender of the year.

Last season, he played in the Buffalo Sabres' system for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.

"I was kind of just relegated as a backup goalie," he says. "I feel with my skill set that I can be a good No. 1 in the American League and hopefully develop into an NHL-calibre goalie."

No matter how far off that may seem.

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