Leblanc’s hockey smarts

BUFFALO -- Asked to describe his Team Canada roommate, Brayden Schenn needed an extra few seconds to collect his thoughts.

How to explain sharing a hotel room with Louis Leblanc, a teammate he met only two weeks ago?

“He’s … uh … uh … What’s the word for him?” Schenn asked back, trying to pick the perfect description.

Was the word “smart”? After all, Leblanc was a hockey star with the Harvard Crimson last year, where he was studying at the Ivy League school for a degree in economics before leaving after one season to join the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Montreal Juniors. The suggestion was met with more ums and uhs.

Was he an eccentric?

"I don't know what that word means,” said the 19-year-old Schenn with a laugh. ”But he's weird. He calls himself weird.

“I get along with him great, anytime you get along with your roommate when you’re with them in a hotel for 12 days that’s always a good thing.”

Off the ice, Leblanc, a six-foot, 170-pound centre, is quiet and cerebral. He grew up in the hockey hotbed of Pointe-Claire, Que., a suburb of Montreal where his mother, Marie, is a piano teacher and his father, Yves, is a chemist for a pharmaceutical company. As such, education was always was the top priority in the Leblanc household, so the decision to forgo a partial scholarship from Harvard did not come lightly.

“Education is important to my family, but they support me in whatever I want to do,” said Leblanc, who is taking a business course at McGill University. “One day I’m going to go back (to Harvard). I still keep going with my education -- I take a class at McGill -- but one day I want a degree from Harvard.”

Last season, Leblanc was a finalist for the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s rookie of the year after leading the Crimson in scoring with 11 goals and 23 points in 31 games. He said the decision to leave the team and his friends -- particularly teammate Danny Biega -- was difficult. Biega and his two older brothers -- Alex and Michael -- all played at Harvard last season and grew up playing hockey with Leblanc in the Montreal area.

“I called him up and just said, ‘Listen, Danny, I had to move on and I’m going to play junior hockey,’ and he accepted it -- he understood my position,” said Leblanc. “He loves Harvard. I love Harvard. We still keep in touch once a week at least and we hang out in the summers. It was tough, but it was the best for me.”

The turning point for Leblanc’s decision came in June when his QMJHL rights were traded by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens to the Juniors. A month later, he was signed to a three-year entry level contract by his hometown Montreal Canadiens, who had selected him in the first round, 18th overall, at the 2009 NHL draft. Signing a pro contract meant automatically forfeiting his NCAA eligibility, forcing him to choose between finishing his career in crimson and starting the path to the NHL early.

“The big factor was just playing more hockey, playing 80 games and having the chance to be a Memorial Cup team,” said Leblanc of the QMJHL’s 68-game regular season plus playoffs. “Having the chance to play here with the world juniors was obviously a big factor and I just thought it was the best option for me at that point.”

Leblanc was invited to Canada’s world junior selection camp last year, but said a wrist injury suffered prior to the start of the evaluation combined with taking exams threw a wrench his holiday plans.

“Nothing was really in my favour,” said Leblanc. “But you never know, maybe if I had gone back to Harvard this year, I would have still made the team, but who knows? I think I was more prepared this year.”

The Juniors are one of the top teams in the QMJHL, leading the Telus West Division with a 26-5-3-2 record. They are currently No. 5 in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top 10 rankings and Leblanc has been a large part of their success, averaging more than a point per game getting more time to develop his skills on the power play and penalty kill.

In his first 24 QMJHL games, he’s already surpassed his totals at Harvard last season with 13 goals and 29 points. As a first-round pick of the storied Canadiens franchise, Leblanc has helped bring out a few more reporters and a little more attention to the team this season, something he said he’s getting used to being around.

“I think it’s for sure a lot of pressure from the media and the fans, but I think it’s going to prepare me for the upcoming years,” said Leblanc. “Playing with the Canadiens is going to be even worse -- a lot more media and a lot more coverage, so it’s a good preparation for me, it’s fun for me to play in my hometown.

“I’m having a great year. I’m loving it and learning a lot.”

Proving that even in life after Harvard, Leblanc continues to be a student of the game.

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at sunaya@yahoo-inc.com

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