When Guy Lachance was 13, his family left the farm in St.-Gedeon, Quebec, for jobs in the mills of Maine.
And while fate would prevent any chance to advance beyond a checkered high school career, Guy never allowed his love of hockey to slip far from his grasp. In French Canada, only Roman Catholicism is practiced more fervently than the slapshot.
Guy’s hockey passion was visited upon his three sons: Mark, Scott and Bobby. Mark, 21, the oldest, attends Bentley College and wants to be a player agent. Bobby, the youngest, will be a high-round NHL draft pick next year.
But Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y., it will be Scott, the most gifted player in the family and the highest-rated American in the 1991 NHL entry draft, who will step through the threshold of pro hockey.
Scott Lachance, 18, who recently completed his freshman season as a defenseman at Boston University, is virtually guaranteed to be chosen second, third or fourth. He will be the United States’ top draft pick and follow in the footsteps of Brian Leetch and Craig Janney through the Olympic Games and on to the NHL. Considering the grand possibilities that could emanate from Olympic participation this winter, Lachance’s is an enviable position.
He knows it. So does his family, a friendly, unpretentious lot. That is why all Lachances except Tippy, the family’s shaggy-haired dog, will leave make the trip to Buffalo.
“If I had painted a picture of how I wanted things to go when I was a little kid, they’d go exactly the way it’s come out,” said Lachance, rated second behind Eric Lindros by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. “From the ‘Pics (Springfield Olympics), I was able to go wherever I wanted to college. BU won the Beanpot, Hockey East and barely missed winning the NCAA championship (losing 8-7 to Northern Michigan in a terrific triple-overtime game).
“I’m going to get drafted pretty high, and then it goes to the Olympics and to the pros.”
So the dream is to win the gold medal, carry the American flag ...
“And then win the Stanley Cup in San Jose (Calif.),” Lachance said, chuckling. “I wouldn’t go that far.
“I’m hoping that San Jose will draft Scott second,” said the Springfield Olympics’ Gary Dineen, who coached Lachance from age 14 until BU. “You’ve got a new franchise in California. If you can ride this kid’s coattails via national TV from the Olympics, it might be nice to have Boy Wonder draped in the American flag come February. I think you’d get a lot more out of that than a kid coming from Chicoutimi (Quebec).”
Chicoutimi, however, isn’t far from where Guy came from and the Lachance story begins.
“I played in high school in Maine and there was no hope then,” Guy Lachance said. “With seven kids and my father earning $54 a week, we had to work. We missed too many practices.”
In the early years, Guy and Lisa moved from Maine to Connecticut, to Charlottesville, Va., (where Scott was born) to Massachusetts and back to Bristol. As Guy settled into his construction business, he built a stable family life and hockey foundation for his boys.
Mark, taken to public skating in Cheshire by his father, caught the hockey bug first. By 1976, Guy had put one hockey rink in the back yard and, three years later, helped build a more elaborate 45x60-foot rink there. Guy also helped coach Scott from the time he was a squirt until he went to the ‘Pics.
“You read these stories about how Gretzky skated in his back yard,” Scott said. “My brothers and I were so competitive, when we were younger, on it, I think it’s one of the major reasons we’re doing well now.”
Dineen first met the Lachances through his summer hockey school in Enfield. When Scott was 14, Dineen convinced Guy to allow Scott to play on his junior team against players up to 20, and predicted he’d be a first-round pick in the NHL some day.
That day has arrived.
“Their best coaches are God and genetics,” Dineen said. “Their third- best coach was the outdoor rink. Playing keep-away for six hours on Saturday night in a restricted area taught them all the little tricks.
"(Scott) was a slow, fat kid at 14, when he joined the ‘Pics. But he also was Doogie Howser (of TV fame). He had his Ph.D. in hockey at 14. We played in West Springfield at that time. Every night, September to March, his mom or dad would have to make the two-hour ride. That’s an incredible commitment.
“He’d study on the drive up. Even after we went to Enfield, he didn’t have his driver’s license until his last year,” Dineen said. “Scott could have been big man on high school campus. But today, I think Guy and Lisa would be the first to say that it was all worth it.”
With as many as three boys playing and traveling, Guy estimates the lifetime price tag is about $150,000 for the family passion. Scott attended St. Paul-Bristol and loves all sports, but he was dedicated solely to the ‘Pics. Said Guy: “It made all the difference in the world.”
To this point, Lachance may be best remembered for making the diving play to set up Boston University’s goal that sent the NCAA title game into overtime. Unlike Leetch, however, Lachance is not considered a potentially dominant offensive force. Lachance, who says the defenseman he most admires is the Boston Bruins’ Ray Bourque, also knows the comparison to Leetch will always be there.
“Where we’re from and the route we’ve taken is really the beginning and end of the comparison,” Lachance said. “I don’t think I play like him. I don’t want to say I’m better defensively, but I think I might be. But he’s 20 times better offensively.”
“They’re different types, really. I don’t see Scott as this spectacular offensive guy,” Rangers scout Dave McNab said. “But he is flawless.
“The rise in his strength level was tremendous this year. He makes all the right plays. But Scott Niedermayer, who is a dynamic Paul Coffey type, is probably better offensively.”
“In my judgment, he’s much stronger defensively at 18 than Leetch,” Dineen said. “He can play this game any way you want. His on-ice awareness is phenomenal. I never have had a kid who uses his body so well to protect the puck. The big thing is he’s not pretty. His skating isn’t Coffeyish. But I’ve never seen a kid with better first two steps.”
Lachance, Niedermayer and forward Pat Falloon -- all clients of agent Don Meehan -- visited the New Jersey Devils and the San Jose Sharks together recently. They are virtually guaranteed to go 2-3-4 behind Lindros, although no one seems sure in what order. Barring a major trade, the Devils pick No. 3 and the Islanders No. 4.
“Marshall Johnston (of the Devils) told me, ‘San Jose will tell us who we pick.’ Probably, it’s Falloon or me,” Lachance said.
“We’d love to get a local kid like Lachance,” Whalers general manager Ed Johnston said. “But if he’s around for us (at No. 9), teams didn’t do their homework.”
EJ and McNab agree that Lachance’s best trait is his ability to rise up in the most crucial games.
“It was in the world juniors (where he was selected to the All-World team) and at the NCAA finals that he looked 18-going-on-30,” McNab said. “Big plays at a big time.”
As heralded as he is, Lachance knows Saturday will be remembered as The Lindros Draft. Will Lindros agree to go to Quebec? Will he force a trade, as many anticipate? Will he play for the Canadian Olympic team? Will he sign with the upstart Continental Hockey Association?
“Personally, I’m sick of hearing about him,” Lachance said. “I don’t want the publicity and I don’t want to speak badly of him. But he’s overshadowing what I feel the draft is all about. All his life he works as hard as he can to be No. 1 and, now that he’s No. 1, he doesn’t want to go where he is picked. Whoever’s fault it is, whether it’s his mother telling him not to go, it’s unfortunate.
“I don’t blame him for trying to get the most he can, but he’s trying to be bigger than the league. I don’t think it’s good for hockey.”