“My goal is not to be the best hockey player at the age of 18. But when I’m ready and everyone is at the same physical maturity, at 26 or 27 years old, then I aspire to be the best player in the 2024 draft.
Better than Macklin Celebrini? Sacha Boisvert is not afraid to say it.
From a young age, the native of Trois-Rivières had clear ideas about his ambitions and how to achieve them. He never needed a counselor.
At the age of 11, he knew that his development would take place in the United States; a tour of the Providence College facilities was enough to convince him. At the age of 14, he left his hometown to join Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island. Next year, he will become the first Quebecer in history to wear a University of North Dakota jersey.
“Since I was young, I had no desire to do anything but be a hockey player,” summarizes the main person on the phone.
Boisvert currently plays in the US Major Junior League (USHL) for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Why did you choose Muskegon? Because he quickly hit it off with general manager Steve Lowe, but also for the simple reason that he was given 24/7 access to the rink.
“The first thing I noticed about him was his desire to be the best. It dawned on me immediately. You have trouble getting him off the ice,” Lumberjacks head coach Parker Burgess said.
“I had to persevere with him to get him out,” recalls one of his former coaches at Séminaire Saint-Joseph, Sébastien Lemay. The Zamboni came out and he continued. In my opinion, you have to lock the door and even then he will try to find the keys somewhere.”
And why North Dakota, in the NCAA? The answer should no longer surprise you.
“I liked the fact that the largest building in the city is the amphitheater. Everything there is based on hockey. No problem. It’s just hockey,” Boisvert insists.
A development laboratory like no other
No doubt, since Boisvert went into exile in the United States, the striker’s prowess did not make headlines in Quebec. However, it should be. He is one of Quebec’s brightest prospects to emerge in the last decade.
At 17 years old and 6 feet 2 inches, Boisvert is a standout in the USHL with 12 goals in 18 games already. And the limits of its potential are difficult to define.
“He really has a package that is rare for a hockey player,” describes Denis Francoeur, who oversaw his development at Saint-Joseph Seminary. Some have amazing hands, amazing skating. Others are tougher and have sandpaper. Sacha combines all these elements. He is hyper-explosive in a sport that focuses on explosiveness. He has very nimble hands and can score goals in several ways.
“He’s got good vision for the game. Add to that, he’s got the grit. It’s rare to have this rough side and this talent at 6-foot-2. He’s not at his full physical strength right now. He’ll probably play over 200 pounds. Maybe he’s in the Tkachuk lineage.”
“A big, intelligent man who skates and can fight. In short, exactly the kind of center player that Montreal is missing,” notes Lemay.
But what made Boisvert the specimen it is today is just as interesting, if not more so, than the specimen itself.
During his third year of elementary school, Boisvert joined an absolutely fascinating developmental laboratory, the Denis Francoeur Academy at the Saint-Joseph Seminary.
The recommended approach contrasts with that of other hockey programs: the emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the development of individual skills.
“The ideas I implemented into the program germinated in my head during my years in the QMJHL (especially as head coach of the Shawinigan Cataracts),” explains Denis Francoeur. I wanted to go much further in early development.
“The years of Novica, Atom and Pee-Wee are critical years in development. Volume is required. Among other things, I was inspired by what is being done in Sweden and Finland, where there is no rush to isolate the elite. What is important is that young people benefit from the same support.”
The ratio of practice to match decreased to five to two.
“You practice your skills every day of the week, and there are workshops before each training session,” explains Sacha Boisvert. I still do exercises today.”
Specifically, there are five workshops built around basic hockey skills. First workshop: skating. Second: hands. The third and fourth workshop: exercises for the coordination of feet and hands (so that they move simultaneously). Fifth workshop: passing or throwing. The exercises were different, but the topics of each workshop remained the same.
“There’s less team play and less system,” notes Boisvert. Teamwork is easier to learn than skills.”
Another special feature of the academy: the youngsters improved their hockey IQ by constantly changing positions during the game, moving from left wing to center to right wing and even from forward to defenseman.
“You better understand the needs of other players on the ice,” claims Francoeur. Only that, it develops your sense of the game. In today’s hockey, it is very useful for them, because you will hear it more and more in the coming years, what we call “positionless hockey”.
“The offensive game is a five-man game and the defenders are very involved in the offense, so much so that they can find themselves at the bottom of the zone in puck control. We have been teaching non-positional hockey for 12 years. Sometimes we supervise our players too much and put them in a straitjacket. They have difficulty expressing themselves.”
Boisvert can therefore skate backwards with the same ease as forwards, which is not a given for all players.
“Even in defence, he could be selected in the first two rounds,” claims Sébastien Lemay.
The academy was named after Denis Francoeur, but it was with Lemay Boisvert that he collaborated most closely. Francoeur also entrusted Lemay with the keys to the program when he retired last year. Lemay runs the academy alongside former Canadiens forward Michaël Bournival.
“I was his head coach for three years,” Lemay says. I also pay a lot of attention to the skating aspect of development. Each team has 30 minutes of skating each week. I became more involved with Sacha especially during vacations, during summer and spring break, for example.
“I worked closely with him in small groups. Sacha, he’s a great guy. At a young age, skating is often more difficult for a player of his size to tame his body, but Sacha has worked very, very hard on his skating.
“He’s going to be a very agile and explosive player despite being 6-foot-2 and soon to be 6-foot-3 because he’s always been careful with his skating. If I came to training and told him: “there is no puck, we are just practicing crosses and turns with one leg”, he would not grumble. He was on the ice and he was happy.”
We asked Sébastien Lemay what Sacha’s weaknesses are, knowing that all the speakers interviewed are selling him as the seventh wonder of the world. There must be something.
If something was wrong, it wasn’t Lemay who put his finger on it. However, he took time to think about it.
“Honestly, I don’t see any holes in his game,” he answers honestly. I’d say he needs to gain 15-20 pounds to play pro, but… he spends his days in the gym. I’m not worried.”
Photo credit: Muskegon Lumberjacks
The son of a boxing coach
Boisvert was instilled with military discipline in the gym by his father, Jimmy Boisvert. Yes, yes, Simon Keane’s former boxer trainer.
“He really showed me what it’s like to be an athlete,” confides Sacha. I started training with him early. Three or four years before people my age, I was already in the gym with my father.
“I strongly believe in development. This is one of the reasons why I went the American way. I have until 24 to develop and reach the next level. I’m tall and thin, I know I have a lot of weight on my body. “I’m in no rush to get to the National League.”
Boisvert was very fond of boxing. He still loves this discipline actually. But there comes a time when an athlete makes decisions.
“I really liked it. In the summer I still go to my father’s gym and put on the gloves. I like the technique and the competitive side. It’s tough mentally and physically. When I was younger, my mother didn’t like me fighting. My father liked it a little more I found that hockey is still a nicer sport in the end, and above all, my father told me that I can fight in hockey… that I can do both in one sport!
A few games ago, Sacha was able to put his father’s teachings to good use for the first time in the USHL.
“My teammate, a shorter guy, was caught in the back. We didn’t get a call from the referee. I am the team leader and I had to stand up.
– It went very well.
We realized he won…
Former students of the Académie Denis Francoeur who are successful
Zachary Bolduc, first choice St. Louis Blues (17th overall) in 2021.
Guillaume Richard, Columbus Blue Jackets 4th round pick (101st overall) 2021
Joaquim Lemay, Washington Capitals 4th round pick (119th overall) 2021
Jacob Guévin, an undrafted defenseman who had NCAA success with the University of Omaha-Nebraska
The comparison game
“I like watching Anže Kopitar. Anything is possible on the ice. This is the label I want to have. I also like Aleksander Barkov” – Sacha Boisvert
“Anže Kopitar is the first name that comes to my mind. He is tall and has long limbs. He can retreat first even if he is the first attacker to forecheck. Like Kopitar, he is versatile and can play multiple roles” – Parker Burgess, Boisvert’s NCAA head coach