He's only 16, but Bonnyville native Emmett Croteau has the experience to offer advice to young athletes looking to succeed in professional sports.
In March, just before sporting seasons were being shut down around the globe due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Croteau, a six-foot-three inch 190 pound Métis teen was named the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League's Goalie of the Year.
Croteau, who has been playing triple-A hockey in the United States for the last year, played in the Northeast Alberta Minor Hockey League for Bonnyville teams until he joined the Lakeland Panthers AA organization as a bantam player in 2016 and stayed until 2017 when he went to the the Alberta's midget AAA division with the Lloydminster bobcats. In 2020 the youngster went south of the border, and has been living in California and playing for the Ontario, California Junior Reign midget AAA and U-18 teams. The teen has also been playing on his St. John Bosco High School hockey team in the US High School Hockey League.
The Goalie of the Year award is the latest in a list of accolades for the young goaltender who was recently a draft pick of the Waterloo Blackhawks. The Tier 1 junior team from Iowa is last year's Western Conference champion in the United States Hockey League. He is also listed as a goaltending prospect for the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.
Not bad for a young man who's just finishing up his Grade 11 studies from his US high school and returned to Bonnyville last month where he is getting some early Grade 12 prep classes online from Notre Dame High School.
"It's surreal," Croteau told the Lakeland This Week recently. "Going from a little kid to all this."
Although it's been a whirlwind ride, Croteau has handled his success with a level-headedness that comes across in the interview. It's a mindset the youngster says he learns from the position he plays, as well as from his family and his community.
"One of my goalie coaches told me a while ago that you can't control everything, you can just do what you can do," he said, explaining his temperament on and off the ice. "I'm calm. I think I have a good mental game."
When asked about his advice to other young athletes looking to move up the ladder, he said the number one thing is to work hard. A close second is to listen to advice.
"You need to work your hardest. You need to be a good person too, not only on the ice, but off it as well. You want to be coachable. You want to be all ears for everything," he said.
And with several hockey franchises talking about the skills of the Bonnyville teen, Croteau says his ears have been burning a little — but again, he takes those possibilities with a mature stride.
"This year went really well . . . and I'm looking through some options."
Back at home, the teen is training and working out on a regular schedule. With the COVID pandemic closing ice rinks, he's traded in his skates for rollerblades and can be often be found wheeling around the community.
"It's great to be at home and with family," he said.
Close to home
Although his hockey career might take him on the road in the coming months, Croteau says his connections to his community and his family remain big motivators.
"This year, being away from the family was pretty tough. I'd put pictures up on the wall where I stay. My family really motivates me and it's great to know they are in my corner," he said, adding that one photo of a family member goes with him to every hockey game. "I have a picture of my great-grandfather on my helmet. He was a (tail) gunner in the back of a plane in World War 2. It's great to have."
As more and more attention comes his way, Croteau remains grounded and praises the Bonnyville-area coaches and managers who pushed him. "I used to be a lazy little kid," the 16-year-old said with a laugh, "and the coaches around here busted me into shape. I wouldn't be anywhere without them."
When COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Croteau will head back to California. He hopes to be skating in summer camps with some of the teams that have shown interest in his skills. He's hopeful of where those skills could take him - but again, he's taking it in stride.
"My goal? I'm sure every kid wants to play in the NHL. That sounds good - I'd also like to get schooling through hockey and make it to the pro's if I can."
For now, despite hockey skills that have earned him opportunities to skate with much older players, he's still a typical teenager around the house.
"I workout, play video games and make sure my room is clean."