MONTREAL – The plan, as conceived by Alexis Gravel while preparing for the Canadian university hockey championship, was to extend his stay in the Halifax region by ten days. The young goaltender, who played five years with the Mooseheads in the QMJHL, thought he could kill two birds with one stone and stay with his in-laws. Life, he told himself, does things well.
He was right. This is also exactly why the plan, finally, took the edge.
Gravel was on the bus that brought the UQTR Patriotes back to Quebec on Monday the day after their first conquest of a national title since 2003. His voice hoarse after a long night of celebrations, he justified his decision without any remorse. His girlfriend, he said, had approved his new itinerary.
“When you win, you want to stay with the boys. I think there are other parties planned this week! I couldn’t miss that. Halifax, I will be going back this summer. »
Gravel has just delivered the performance his life. The Patriotes lost 4-2 against the University of Alberta on Sunday in the Grand Final. They managed to tie the game in the third period, then were declared champions after a goal by Simon Lafrance in second overtime. This comeback would have been impossible without the brilliance of their goalkeeper. When he got rid of his mask and left his half circle to join the celebrations, Gravel had been bombarded with 70 shots.
“For me, it’s like a miracle, what happened yesterday, his father, François Gravel, got carried away when RDS contacted him. We will remember it for a long time. »
The proud father, a former Canadiens pick, briefly rubbed shoulders with Ron Tugnutt at the Nordiques farm club in the late 1980s. He compares what his son has just achieved to the 70-save game that brought in his former teammate in the legend in 1991.
Alexis, who was born on March 21, 2000, nine years to the day after Tugnutt’s feat, had never heard of it until he made his finest imitation.
“The coaches told me about it yesterday. I didn’t know that, but I find it funny. It’s true that I received a lot of pucks, but the guys protected me well. Personally my state of mind was “give everything you have to give until you win the trophy”. Well it paid off. I was really in my bubble. I wouldn’t stop until we won. »
In his young career, Gravel had often approached the intoxication of great victories without ever being able to feel the euphoric effects. At the age of 15, he had to settle for the silver medal after losing to the United States at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Three years later, he lost in the QMJHL playoff final and the Memorial Cup tournament final in the space of a few weeks.
“That hurt extremely badly. For three years, I wonder what I could have done better in the final. You know the window, it opens but it doesn’t stay open for long. There, we seized the opportunity and won two championships. I’m so happy, so proud. Personally, I was looking forward to winning. I was really due. »
The victory in this final match also came to put a healing balm on the disappointments experienced by Gravel during his short stay with the professionals. After taking advantage of an invitation to the Canadiens’ camp last fall, the former sixth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks did not attract the interest of any American League club and did not even give the taste for risk at the Lions of Trois-Rivières.
His only chance was given to him by the Allen Americans, an ECHL club based in Texas. He spent only two games there before being ejected from his post. The precariousness of the minor leagues got into him. It was at this time that he let himself be seduced by the Patriots, who announced his arrival in November.
“When I arrived in Trois-Rivières, I met Marc-Étienne [Hubert, l’entraîneur] and I told him that I wanted to win. Because when you win, you’re tagged champion forever. Even though I did well in the President’s Cup playoffs, I didn’t win. If I had won, I think it might have been better for me professionally. Basically, my goal was to come with the Pats, give everything I had, try to bring back the Queen’s Cup and after that bring back the U-Cup. I can say mission accomplished. »
Accomplished, but not necessarily completed. Gravel does not know what the chances are that his recent performances have reached the ears of the right people and to tell the truth, well seated in a bus between Nova Scotia and Mauricie, it is a little the least of his worries. Among his priorities is the next party, yes, but there is also the completion of his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
For the rest, it seems pretty clear that his loyalty will come before the immediate lure of a paycheck.
“When I got released from the ECHL, I had nowhere to go and the Pats took me. They gave it to me, I gave it to them. My goal now is not to go pro next year. If the offer is there and I have no choice but to say yes, I will. But if it’s not a no brainer, I really want to be a Patriot. »